Monday, November 23, 2009

Parenting and the Culture of Governance

I can remember my grown children as babies. Cute, curious, full of energy, exploration, and playfulness. They have not changed a great deal, somehow managing to retain their essence in spite of what the world and their parents have thrown their way. I still want to protect them, and refine the value system they have cultivated through their upbringing and the cultural attributes I hold dear as they go off and explore their world further.

I realize that many parents around me do not adopt the same stance. Even their Dad tends to be less protective, letting them figure their own way earlier and having different expectations of their self-sufficiency.

This tension between self-sufficiency and protection often conflated with cultivation of culture or particular values is seen in the legal system and the making of laws also: from inception within the political and legislative process to adjudication and enforcement. This tension within the legal system just like within two sets of parents comes from a difference in cultural precepts and sometimes even personality types. Perhaps we can liken the latter to partisanship?

We play out, in and through the rules we create, much of the drama of the parent-child dynamic because governance itself invokes care taking and care giving between the larger whole or body politic, the structures it creates, individuals, communities, and the many governing structures whose role it is to provide such care.

I use the term 'care' as an ideal, of course. How many of us do not often feel neglected? We want our government to care and implement caring actions, but there are seldom enough resources. Our government like many parents is over stressed, out of time, out of money, or can't make ends meet -- all of which leaves little room or sentiment to provide the care required.

But one day, one of my children or one of your children may occupy a governing role within the larger care-giving institution, or government. The structures and institutions we have created are all peopled by individuals not so long ago children. And in that view, we can understand that these institutions we have created have within them a microcosm of all the pushes and pulls of conformity, power, service, play, sloth, perfection, mediocrity, and curiosity to which their members may be susceptible, just as they were in the school yard.

I realize that inadvertently or intentionally it appears I have made a judgment that the parents or teachers are missing in that school yard. I think sometimes that is true or it feels that way. But even when that is true we have the larger structures or institututions that make up the government to provide us with the sense of stability and security we expect from parents. Those institutions are founded upon certain basic rules we deploy to guide our sense of freedom and limits. Where rules and laws are made or changed, processes involving time, deliberation, participation of experts and interested parties, as well as institutional reflection will assist with the stabilization of governance and the invocation of change.

So in the wake of destruction to our security and confidence caused by the financial crisis, it is useful to ponder these dynamics also. While the financial crisis toppled markets and destroyed investor confidence in the very idea that we can be secure in our economic and financial system, we still depended on the weight, solidity, reflection, and participation of our legislative processes and governing structures.

We had confidence in the deliberative processes by which we usher in changes in rules, paradigms, and systems in this country. It is for this reason the quick passing of the bail out packages caught me by surprise. I cannot pass comment on the real necessity of those actions to the economic system on which we have come to rely. I don't count myself as one of the insiders to that story.

I do know there was another level of confidence those actions threatened - confidence in our governing institutions and processes. Even if we will eventually be glad our government took the steps to protect us and perpetuate the value system we choose to live by, our security was undermined anyway. It didn't feel like we, as individuals and communities, were being protected. Instead, it felt like institutions that were grown up enough to take care of themselves were coddled at our expense.

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