Last Sunday 9 people came to my house. It was a "coming out" party. I had just published Deep Economics and now wanted to hear what impact it had on others. The major issue that surfaced for almost everyone boiled down to trust: Can we trust fellow citizens to do good if we give them more democratic power.
It was easy to imagine an American citizenry gone amok. The violence we hurl at one another every day is horrifying. If it was easier to amend
Then we were reminded of extreme examples of state-sponsored violence, like the Holocaust, or genocides in Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia, and even in the US of Native Americans.
The evidence against trusting fellow citizens is staggering.
But then one guest told of her recent jury duty experience. She was amazed by how everyone was called to the higher purpose of administering true justice. They came from all walks of life: conservative and liberal, rich and poor, etc. But they all worked together to do the right thing.
Isn't the evidence in favor of trust more compelling than the case for not trusting? Aren't most examples of state-sponsored evil enabled by an erosion of public accountability? Has the notion of benevolent dictatorship ever withstood the test of time?
Trust is extremely low in the US. In other words, fear is extremely high. There is only one known cure for fear: courage.
How can courage help us overcome fear and lack of trust? Maybe it starts by courageously accepting the evil and good in everyone, including ourselves. It takes tremendous courage to do this well. If we are wimpy about it, the realization that anyone can hurt us drives us back into fear. It takes courage to remain vulnerable while knowing we can be hurt by anyone at any time.
Our popular culture often portrays vulnerability as a weakness. We need more heroes who retain their vulnerability while under emotional attack. Our genetic coding tells us emotional violence leads to physical violence. But most of the time, it's not true. Courage helps us calm our physical response to emotional violence. It helps us stay grounded in our core values and not revert to counter-attacks of reciprocal or escalating emotional violence. It's a tall order. It means we need to trust that compassion will eventually win the day.
People have tremendous capacity for compassion. We are hard-wired with it. Compassion is impossible to kill, despite how our popular culture or life experiences undermine it.
It takes tremendous courage to trust that, over time, the majority will respond with compassion to our vulnerability and do good. The alternative–limited democracy–isn't working. It clearly fosters the spread of greed. More democracy, not less, is the solution. We need to summon our courage, practice vulnerability, and trust the people. Participative democracy is our next step. Let's take it.