As an undergraduate studying political theory I learned to identify and analyze the kinds of simple and basic assumptions that we make about things. Then, later on, I was taught by co-workers here in our state that perceptions matter.
I realize now that these are in some sense two sides of the same coin. In both cases, we are dealing with our thoughts and feelings about things in a way that may not be evidence-based. These thoughts and feelings can take on a life of their own and dictate the kinds of decisions we make and the actions we take, sometimes without our even knowing it.
A number of specific instances of these dynamics have occurred to me as related to both the personal and the political. I keep in mind the common dictum that in our state all politics is personal. The little things matter and can be intrinsic to the political.
With relationship to the personal:
Some of us may choose not to use social media at the same time that we want to know about and participate in local events and get our information, or not, through this paper, emails and websites.
We cannot assume that riders can figure out where and when buses run just because there is a website listing that includes maps of individual routes with a couple of key stops.
Benches where homeless people may try to sleep are not the only ways to provide seating for people who are walking or using public transportation to get around town.
The hunger for local news is not limited to crimes and fires, investigations or feel-good stories.
Along with this, asking promoters to pay for digital listings or for digital or print ads is not the only way and may not work best to support providing information to readers of this paper about local events.
With relationship to the political:
Attention and hard work cannot in and of themselves overcome barriers to fair elections and the exercise of voting rights.
Not all corporate money is bad or intrinsically corrupting and, while it may pose a temptation, all people or causes or events that receive it are not automatically corrupted.
All of the ills of the state cannot be put at the foot of any one person, no matter how long they have held various positions of power.
Along with this, it is extremely rare that any person in power is all good or all bad.
As a corollary, no category of people is monolithic, and one person or group cannot speak for or represent everyone with a particular label.
It is virtually impossible for one person on their own to either prevent change or turn things around.
Intelligence and good judgment do not depend on formal education.
People outside of our state are not automatically better — or worse — than we are by any given metric.
We are not an isolated people without awareness of or concern for the rest of our country or our world.
We are also not islands or clans unto ourselves within our communities and our state.
Winning elections does not require fitting into a homogenized mold and avoiding hard questions or strong visions for changes that promote the common good.
Messaging is important but ultimately it is walking the walk and making a real difference in improving people’s lives that can carry the day.
Good organizers are not necessarily good leaders, and the other way around.
We cannot treat people poorly just because it is for a good cause.
A view that if you are not with us you are against us cannot bring us all together.
Finally, the most nefarious of all: God made both those of us who we call flowers and those of us who we call weeds and we do not get to decide which is which.
In making these lists, I have considered giving examples of each one. I have decided not to do this. I trust that each of us can come up with examples of our own. Others can probably also add more items to this list.
Each of us is challenged to use critical thinking for ourselves and to encourage it in others. Ask hard questions both privately and aloud. Look for leaders who are willing to do likewise.
Exercise our citizenship to the fullest extend that we can. This will be different for everyone. We each bring a different level of engagement and preferences for how we want to contribute to public life.
We also each have our own limitations, whatever these may be. There is nothing wrong with this. We are as unique and different in our citizenship as we are in everything else.
In thinking about this right now, and despite the hype, I cannot remember ever meeting an adult in our state who was not engaged in public life at some level. Everyone I have met has had his or her own views of the world that they were willing to share, at least in part.
We are a state of wonderful storytellers, and sharing our views is a part of our stories.
It may not check all the boxes in a research survey, but this underlying quality of public engagement is a great strength in our state. Some of us may not like the way it plays out in others, but at least it is here.
Even partway into the 1960s I knew professors who made their reputations by writing about how the functioning of our democracy depended on the apathy of most of our citizens. As we all know, the rest of that decade blew these theories wide open as those who were disenfranchised fought to vote and actively help govern.
I do not foresee us going back to a time when the apathy of the many allowed for the rule by the few. It is not who we are.
Our state slogan is not just words. Mountaineers. Are. Always. Free.