The Nature of a Renewal Group
- some considerations concerning the future of the art of citizenship
In this paper I wanted to expressly address certain
matters connected to the Idea of "renewal groups", as that is a potential
aspect of the emerging citizen governance movement.
In another paper, Citizen Governance and the Future of the Republic, the
observation is made that if one wants to reform our political life, the gentlest
and most sure means is through taking hold of the public conversation. Up
to our time, the content of this conversation has been dominated by elite
groups through their control of media, and the superficial ways in which
serious political questions are routinely addressed in television commercials.
In effect, there is no real conversation during our electoral processes,
but only a lot of money spent on trying to bend the voters emotions in particular
For a Nation with a constitutional government that is based upon profound
ideas, this means, of addressing the serious issues of our time, is basically
irrational. Outright lies, half truths, purposely confused media images,
falsifaction of a candidates true feelings, and the obscuring of the real
reasons various groups advocate their causes - all these are the norm.
This must be overcome, which is certainly the point of those who advocate
for various campaign reforms. My contribution is that we are not dependent
upon Congress fixing these problems, but rather have in our own hands the
means to bring about the necessary changes.
We do this by changing the depth and nature of our polticial conversations
among We the People.
No one can stop us from doing this. Nor can anyone really stop the
long term effect of such a permanent change at the fundamental levels of
our democratic Republic. An informed and enlightened electorate forces
politicians to deal with matters in a whole new way. What could be
manipulated because it was hidden, is now brought by our conversations into
the light, where it then becomes no longer subject to spin and half truths.
The Idea of what America is to be, and what is right for all within
our civic life - this is determined in the conversations of the renewal groups,
not in smoke filled back rooms.
So what is a renewal group?
Really anywhere two or more citizens are gathered with the idea of seeking,
through mutually open conversation, the root Ideas of what we are about -
that is a renewal group. This can be formal and regular, or informal
and spontaneous. The group doesn't even have to think of itself as
a renewal group.
People riding in a car pool to work can have a renewal group. Someone
can invite neighbors over for discussion and have a renewal group.
People meeting for lunch can have a renewal group. A church can have
a renewal group.
The real question is what do we do that makes a gathering for political conversation
not a renewal group, because this is really the norm today. Most political
conversation is not a renewal group.
Why is this?
It basically has to do first with the intention we as individuals bring to
the process of conversation. And secondly, with the effort we place
at listening. Then finally, to what extent we exclude certain views.
If our intention is only to give forth on our opinions (don't bother me with
facts, my mind is already made up), then nothing can be renewed, because
no view makes itself available to growth and change. If we don't increase
our listening skills, nothing can be renewed, because renewal also
is a kind of "exchange", the same way that new life requires the co-mingling
of genetic material, so new life in our political conversation requires the
co-mingling of ideas. And finally, by walling ourselves up into groups
that judge each other as somehow less than we, because they don't hold to
our views and opinions, we limit the potential for new thought, by how much
of what is different that we keep away.
Being a citizen is a responsibility, not just a right. Just having
an opinion is an exercise of that right, but to exercise the responsibility,
we need to allow for our views to grow.
A good way to foster growth is to hear and genuinely consider other views,
or to add to our factual understanding, or (and this is most important) to
carefully think critically about all the ideas out there, not only the ideas
of politicians and those with something to gain, but also our own.
In a sense, by critical thinking (not criticism, as in you think like a jerk
- but by analysing the factual basis and the logic) we make a kind of idea-compost,
a place where a kind of fermenting process comes into being, which then leads
naturally to new thinking.
This is what a renewal group does. It brings new life to the Ideal of
what the United States of America is as a Nation, and who we are as a People.
What could be more important as a future act of citizenship?