By Joe Bayless
A civil society of gatherings in town meetings deliberated on public affairs for 150 years before the U.S. Constitution came into being. From these town meetings came the starting point for governance. The role of people in dialogue gave rise to Thomas Paine’s observation that “a constitution is not the act of a government, but of a people constituting a government.”
It is “We the people ... do ordain and establish this Constitution.” This Constitution was not the end of all dialogue. It was to be a process for the people to continuously reconstituting themselves. And as in any society, there will be some who want more privilege, more power, more wealth, more influence. But dialogue holds the extremes in balance. The difference between a totalitarian and a democratic society is the difference between everyone having a voice and only a select few having the voice.
Today we might be at a low point in this process where “we the people” are having less say and dominant extremes in our society have more say and are refusing to dialogue. Some try to manipulate the rights of certain people to vote. Some try to influence those in power to allow certain people to pay less of their income into the common good (thus forcing others to pay more). Some try to give certain people or entities greater rights in organizing businesses, more influence in keeping wages of certain segments low, so others can gain higher wages, to keep certain individuals without or with little health care and little income when retired.
The Second Amendment was important, more important in an earlier day when many hunted to survive, and guns were important to keep bad governments from over-running good ones. But today the answer, as the head of the NRA stated, is to let good people have guns when bad people attack our schools. Then a healthy “shoot-out” could occur. Segments of our society also believe in the Second Amendment, but not to the extent that everyone should run around with a weapon and have weapons powerful enough to kill dozens of people (and animals).
Mediation, dialogue, getting together to listen to each other are needed again. In my faith community we use this term “the worth of all persons.” That means that everyone created has some basic human rights. These rights are to keep society in fair and open dialogue.
Now another incident involving weapons: A young man with a history of mental health problems was able to get into a school with an assault rifle and other guns, held a woman hostage and entered into a dialogue with her (Antoinette Tuff). She was scared to death, but prayed and talked (a good combination!).
She didn’t pray for a superman with a gun. She became a vessel for using those God-given gifts for good because she listened to this young man. She told her story of having her marriage of 33 years collapse, of having to struggle raising a disabled son, who had experienced a failed business attempt, and even tried to commit suicide when her life was falling apart, but she told this young man things were OK today.
He didn’t want to listen and went to the window and shot at the police. But she kept talking and told him she loved him and would help him do the right thing. In the end he ended up sitting down on the floor, putting his weapon down, emptying his pockets and telling her he was sorry! No one was hurt.
Civil persons in a civil society can do much good. Let’s pray and work to help our communities, Congress and other important bodies help take back our government from those who only have selfish motives and refuse to listen to other “worthy” persons.
Joe Bayless lives in Independence.