Over the past few years, I have written about how life in our society is increasingly becoming a ‘spectator sport’. I am again reminded of this as I listen to week after week of pundits second-guessing President Obama and other leaders as if their points of view are a) true, b) somehow contributing to a civil public discourse, and c) honest and not contrived to produce controversy or provoke conflict and drama.
I am not naive: I am aware that the media is in the business of creating and satisfying audiences and that drama, conflict and controversy sell more than relatively straight-forward information. Personally, I’ve managed to disconnect from the mainstream media channels about 90%, but even so the conversations are persuasive whether we’re getting them first or second-hand. If my observation about all of us is valid that we’re becoming spectators rather than being active participants in the democratic process, then the question becomes what can we do about it?
As an example, a majority of us voted for a President and before the ink was dry we began to hear daily ‘score cards’ about his ‘popularity’ and is he doing a good or a bad job. Mostly we’re second-guessing his decisions and undermining his (or anyone’s) capacity to lead. Imagine what it would be like if you got married and then had a daily report by all your neighbors of how the marriage was going and how you were doing as a spouse. Either you’d have to stop listening or you’d end up reacting to the feedback to the point where you are a pawn of public opinion and no longer an actor in the relationship. I admire any leader’s capacity to balance sage advice and counsel from those committed to making things work and their ability to ‘screen’ out all the ‘devil’s advocates’ who have no other commitments than to destroy whatever possibilities may exist for change and/or to forward their own points of view.
Lately there is a back-and-forth argument about whether the President is being tough enough on Wall Street. Frankly, I don’t know what his longer-term game plan is, but I would bet the story isn’t finished. He is fighting wars on a dozen fronts. He must pick his battles. He must be strategic. If any president were to declare war on Wall Street, it is not clear who will win and, as has been the case with healthcare, we will, in all likelihood, lose the opportunity to correct and clean up the mess we’ve created.
There is very little (if any) benefit to second-guessing our leaders. If we have personal priorities and requests, there are lots of ways for them to be communicated. There are lots of forums for discourse and debate that are not daily ‘spectacles’.
We remember the story of Emperor Nero watching Rome burn. We forget that, for years before it burned, the population was drawn to the Coliseum to watch the gladiators live or die. They voted on the life and death of the combatants. Our Coliseum may be the public media. The stakes are the same. Are we going to empower them to succeed or will we decide their fate (and ours) by destroying them before the game is over? The choice will be ours.
Copyright 2009 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.