The public is always capable of making good decisions. What’s more…the public knows how to step-by-step solve any political, economic or social problem. So…when a public dilemma persists and even becomes more complicated through time, it should be obvious the public isn’t convinced yet that the problem is important enough to resolve. The public decides what the public will decide…and when it will decide. When the public does decide to resolve a dilemma, an elegant yet simple practice is employed in one variation or another: ‘connecting the dots.’
Most of us are familiar with ‘connecting the dots’ through the children’s version…where a seemingly random array of numbered dots is seen on a sheet of paper, but then a picture appears when a continuous line is traced along the sequential dots. The adult version of this practice has been used by leaders, academics and everyday folk for centuries, when needed…to find essential insights into problems large and small.
‘Connecting the dots’ is a logic-based norm with roots in both eastern and western thought. When we are addressing a public policy dilemma, it doesn’t really matter where we start…all of the parts of a sophisticated array of seemingly random information about needs and resources can eventually be connected by research, storytelling and lots of clarifying questions. When enough of these ‘dots’ are effectively connected, a unifying ‘public knowledge’ emerges as a foundational view of the problem for resolving the dilemma with a new stabilizing policy or decision…not perfectly, but to the point where enough residents can live with it.
So…who gets to participate in the real-world version of ‘connecting the dots?’ As the impasse continues in Washington, D.C. concerning the debt ceiling, it amazes me that some historic and significant decisions in ‘connecting the dots’ for our nation’s economy and safety net are being entrusted to just a handful of highly-partisan politicians…behind closed doors. Due process and deliberative care is totally missing from this critically important process…they’ve been replaced by a media frenzy where rumors and calculated ‘spin’ monopolize what should be a serious public discussion about our shared future. The hugely-inflated egos of leaders in both political parties and in the 24/7 news-entertainment media have hijacked a critical public function, thinking they alone get to participate in ‘connecting the dots’ for the American people.
We deserve public participation in decisions that are this important…all voices need to be included at this level of ‘connecting the dots’ for future generations. It appears both sides of these negotiations believe ‘winning’ is an acceptable goal…when ‘governing’ is supposed to be their job. But…‘governing’ is done in the open for everyone to see…it doesn’t create a crisis where a doomsday clock is ticking and where only the experts can be trusted to decide quickly enough.
The public is always capable of making good decisions. This isn’t simple-minded optimism, but an accurate reading of history. When the public decides to decide, many different deliberative practices are available in ‘connecting the dots’…but first the public must decide it’s their decision to make, and not just another decision to delegate to our hired representatives.
At our annual celebration of Independence Day, we Americans remember how the public can decide to decide…and we feel good about not only the start of our nation, but also the long history we have in meeting challenges together. This is such a time…this is such a challenge…this is such a task to pursue together, ‘connecting the dots.’