Opinion and Forefront

REED: Democracy depends on the right basics

January 22, 2011

Suellen ReedThere seems to be more than enough pressure to go around these days. The economic conditions have led to other problems that have many people worried, frustrated and, in general, worn out.

Adding to all of this is the debate we hear about almost everything. Talk shows on the radio and television, and ranting and raving in newspapers and magazines produce inflammatory rhetoric that leads to more and more tension.

All of this seems to bring out the old government teacher in me. I believe we need to do some clear thinking around at least three issues: civil discourse; death, taxes and change; and stepping up to serve.

Some of the venting we hear is part of our cherished right to free speech. Speaking out for what we truly believe is not only a right, but also a responsibility of citizenship.

Part of this responsibility, however, requires that we have our facts straight. If we speak out to rally others to our cause, they depend upon us to lead them in the right direction. Doing the necessary homework is essential.

We also need to keep in mind that those who might disagree with us are entitled to their opinions. They are human beings and should be treated with respect.

The last thing to keep in mind on this issue is that we might be wrong, or we and the persons with whom we disagree might both be wrong! There is an old saying that we should keep our words sweet as we may one day have to eat them.

Second, we are hearing that taxes are bad. We really do not know of any “cheerful” taxpayers, but the truth is that paying taxes is a privilege. It means we have jobs and we own something.

We pay taxes so we may have services—police and fire protection, schools, roads, etc. We do well to pool our resources so individuals do not have to negotiate and pay for those services on their own.

In no way am I suggesting that we not question a tax increase. We need to know the purpose and whether there are areas that might be cut before taxes increase. Public servants should always examine alternatives before passing along a cost. The private sector, before passing a cost on to consumers, should look at all possibilities as well. If we like the level of services we receive and to continue that level requires more money, we may need to pay more. If there are savings to be realized in another part of the budget, changes must be made before increases are considered.

Last, one of the greatest characteristics of the American people has been our willingness to pitch in for a good cause—to help a neighbor, to fill a community need or to accomplish a task. In the doing of a good deed, the cause is helped, but also the person doing the helping gets a feeling that is hard to explain.

The stepping up also has to do with serving a community, a state or our country. We will have good government as long as good people are willing to step up and take a turn. When good people, who have high values, are competent and have a sense of responsibility and are willing and able to serve, our system works well.

When the good people are not willing to step up and take a turn, someone is found to take the job. That someone may not have good values, be competent or responsible, or have the public good at heart.

It is only through taking a turn, or supporting good people who will take a turn, that our government can succeed.

This is our citizenship challenge.•

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Reed, vice president of business development at security brokerage Ross Sinclaire and Associates, served 16 years as Indiana superintendent of public instruction. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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