#5: Democracy Means Humility

What is democracy? Plenty of smart books have been written about this oftentimes confusing topic, and those who have the privilege of living in a democratic society should know what it means, kind of. We should know.

But sadly, it seems, there is an odd reaction to democracy happening, a backlash out of frustration, and an even odder envy about other forms of government that are maybe less “messy.” This strange dissatisfaction can be witnessed all around the political spectrum. Nothing in a conversation is as easy a crowd pleaser as a slightly cynical throwaway remark about “the politicians” or “politics nowadays.”

Newsflash, nobody in history has ever liked politicians or politics, least of all those involved in it, probably. It’s one of the givens of human existence. You just don’t hear it as frequently as today, and you certainly hear it less in non-democratic countries.

Similarly, you can easily make friends by frenetically agreeing with their more partisan political opinions, just as you can easily lose them by vehemently arguing the opposite. Human beings are tribal beings, whether we like it or not. Animals probably are too. Maybe even plants. Like likes like, and the one who throws (Greek: ballein) obstacles in your way against (dia-) you, is called a devil (dia-bolos) for a reason. That’s all quite understandable.

But if you believe in a democracy, you believe that the people should rule, not the elites, not nobility, not the warriors, not only men, not only white people, not only straight people, not only non-straight people, not only people of color, not only women, not only pacifists, not only the workers. Everyone. Most political injustice historically has happened because of the exclusion of whole swaths of people.

Movements for political justice have always focused on including more, not less people from politics. Everyone means everyone, even if you cannot stand them, cannot understand them, cannot understand how they think, do not even think that they are thinking.

Democracy means humility. It means the humility of living in the awareness that other people may very well know what they are doing, whether you understand it or not; and if they don’t know, they still have a right to participate; and if you think you know what you are doing yourself, you may not know it after all either. We are all fallible. We can be right on an issue today and wrong tomorrow and right again the day after tomorrow and so on. Realizing that sooner or later would save all of us from this strange partisan tribalism that seems to be growing day by day.

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