When was the last time you solved a problem by talking about people who weren’t in the room?

Think about everyday experiences outside of politics – in your family, neighborhood, workplace, or the voluntary associations to which you belong. In settings of that sort, when was the last time you solved a problem by talking about people who weren’t in the room? Almost certainly the answer is “Never.” That kind of talk is little more than venting and kvetching, a cheap excuse for honest engagement with whatever is troubling us. It may create the illusion that we have spoken up and done what we can, but it never rises to the level of responsible problem-oriented discourse. 

Being grown-ups in our private and public lives means taking responsibility for whatever is within our reach. And politics is always within our reach – if we understand it first and foremost as the business of “We the People,” and only secondarily as the business of the people we elect to office. Every time we talk with family, friends, classmates, colleagues, or strangers – including those who see things differently than we do – about the state of the Union, we have a chance to assume our share of responsibility for a democracy founded on citizen convictions about the common good. In statistical terms, our individual shares are insignificant, to be sure. In moral terms, however, they are vital. History has always been made by individuals doing their small parts in ways that have the potential to add up to something big. 

From “Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit” by Parker J. Palmer

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