DEMOCRACY MUST EXEMPLIFY TRUTH
President George W. Bush reportedly told a joint session of Congress shortly after the September 11th (2001) attacks that, “We’re in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them.” The central principles to live by in the honest practice of democracy are connection, sharing, and truth, because a democracy only works when it is being practiced as a verb—not set on a pedestal as a noun. Democracy is designed to protect individual freedoms within socially acceptable relationships that allow people to live peacefully and honestly with one another, individually and collectively.
Democracy is built on the concept of both inner and outer truth, which in practice is a tenuous balance among spirituality, community, materialism, ecology, and the economy—which either integrates them in a balanced way or divides them in a dangerous way. There can be no outer truth, however, if one does not have inner truth.
A major facet of inner truth is the notion of human equality, in which all people are pledged to defend the rights of each person, and each person is pledged to defend the rights of all people. In practice, however, the whole endeavors to protect the rights of the individuals, while the individuals are pledged to obey the will of the majority, which may or may not be just to each person, in which case a person must use the democratic process to seek justice.
Beyond this, democracy requires respect for and acceptance of, or at least tolerance of, others and an open exchange of ideas. If our democracy is to survive the perpetual challenge of those who prefer dictatorship, however subtle, the primacy of truth must prevail without exception. To willingly lie is to undermine and make a mockery out of our entire democratic system of government by making it untrustworthy in the eyes of everyone in the world because no one will know who to believe or what to believe, which is already a problem. After all, anything but the whole truth is a lie, and a lie by any other name is still a lie!
One lie told is followed easily by a second and a third. I find this particularly troublesome because, if we are to teach our children to live by truth as the foundation of both their personal lives and our democracy, it seems to me the very least all our elected officials can do is set the example of truthfulness for the youth of our nation, some of whom will be leaders in the future. After all, we, as a nation, are judged by the truthfulness and honor of our leaders—each of whom we, the people, elected to reflect our sense of moral integrity. Their behavior is thus a reflection of our collective, social values as seen by the world in our national mirror.
Is today’s image the national legacy we want to send forth into everlasting? If not, we can always choose to choose again and so modify our behavior to in fact become the highest, living principles our democracy is founded on. The choice is ours; to all generations of the world, we bequeath the consequences.
Series on Democracy:
Text © by Chris Maser 2010. All rights reserved.