THOMAS Paine opened Common Sense with words that still ring true today.
“Some writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but [they] have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher. Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil, in its worst state an intolerable one.”
I wholly agree with Paine. By seeing the difference between society and government, we can discover our personal power to shape the future.
The history of society is the story of humanity learning to accept responsibility for liberty. If people governed their own lives sensibly, there would be no need for a high government to control our lowest impulses. If we all lived with compassionate regard for one another, if we loved and respected others as we want to be treated, we’d barely need any government at all. That’s not our current reality.
Our reality today is a world filled with hate, violence, exploitation, and suffering. Why? Society reflects the web of mass consciousness woven daily by what we think, say and do. Our daily actions impact ourselves, our families, workplaces, communities, nations, and planet. The harmful habits of our minds and hearts are reflected in society, and society reinforces those harmful habits in us. It’s a vicious circle. To break the cycle, we need to transform our consciousness. Happily, such a worldwide change in our thinking is happening now.
In an era of globalization, two specters haunt our world, the spirits of absolute tyranny and genuine democracy. We live in the spectrum between. On one side are corporations and religions ruling us through puppet governments that prey upon our addiction to authority. On the other side is a grassroots movement for peace and democracy through enlightened spiritual awareness of our global oneness. Which way goes society and government depends on which way goes each of us. Our daily choices decide the fate of life on earth.
Once we accept our global “interdependence” as a fact of life, as naturally as dawn follows night, we recognize our personal and social responsibility for managing our personalities, our societies and our governments. Acknowledging our innate oneness with life inspires us to live more consciously and cooperatively, so kings or other masters are not needed. Awakening to a global sense of our unity in a diverse community is our best hope for democracy and world peace.
In these times that try our souls, as humanity faces dismal dangers, too many of us make Big Government a social necessity by refusing to practice mindful self rule and personal democracy. We resent our governments for limiting our freedom, but we glorify forceful power. We praise democracy, but we elect men who would be kings.
Why is there a disconnect between our ideals and our realities?
Robert Putnam in Bowling Alone says we’ve become cut off in our communities from our families, friends, neighbors, and democratic structures. He feels our stock of “social capital” (our connection with one another) has fallen sharply, impoverishing our societies.
Richard Bellah argues in Habits of the Heart that modern life has become cut off from healthy feelings of community by “narcissistic individualism.” We’re so wrapped up in instant gratification that we lack any language to discuss our rights and duties in a republic.
As a solution, I propose reviving the ideas of Thomas Paine and other Enlightenment thinkers. Updated by terms from communication theory and personal growth, we’ll gain a neutral vocabulary to discuss how to govern ourselves sensibly in a global society. If we can agree on a fair plan for self government, all humanity might prosper.
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Excerpted and edited from GLOBAL SENSE: Awakening Your Personal Power for Democracy and World Peace (an update of Common Sense) by Judah Freed. (c) 2006 by Judah Freed.