Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Lead Yourself

Pent up dissatisfaction can be vented by citizens at the most unexpected of times. At Nelson Mandela's memorial service earlier this month, South Africans at the FNB Stadium heckled their president Jacob Zuma virtually every time the camera focused on him. Barack Obama on the other hand received a deafening roar from the same crowd whenever he appeared on the Jumbotron.  During those few seconds of euphoria one could easily forget Obama's approval ratings back home in the US. The contrast was most pronounced when the stadium soundtrack instantly changed from boos to cheers, as the image on the Jumbotron changed from that of Jacob Zuma to Barack Obama.

It's difficult to find a political leader that's popular with their countrymen. Deeply entrenched stereotypes of corrupt and incompetent politicians means that those in congress or parliament are viewed with skepticism before they can even introduce themselves. 

With the right to vote, citizens have the responsibility to analyze and critique their politicians:  When a country's leaders are not performing, active citizenship demands that citizens protest and if necessary vote in a different set of leaders (admittedly it's often a case of choosing the lesser of two evils).  The rights and responsibilities to vote, complain and protest are the hallmarks of democracy. 

Voting comes once every few years and protesting takes concerted effort, however, so they do not feature much in a typical citizen's life. What seems to be dominating living room, dining room and online discussions though are complaints about governments and politicians. Complaining is easy and people have the right to it, but having a right to something doesn't mean you should always exercise it at every opportunity.   

A person can easily (albeit unconsciously) slip into the habit of blaming politicians for the unfavorable economic climate, poor service delivery and virtually anything that's wrong with their country. Excessive complaining turns people into victims, as the complaints imperceptibly turn into excuses: the right job/home/education isn't coming and it's all government's fault. There comes a point where complaining becomes counterproductive as it shifts focus and responsibility for one's life to a third party.

Government is a large slow moving machine and active citizenship, done properly, is your means to impact it.  Still, politics ultimately has a limited scope on your life and your government or president will not lead your life for you. By the laws and policies they enact politicians can make things a bit easier or more difficult for you, but very seldom will what they do will radically transform your life. Most democracies are advanced and mature, so minor rather than major changes are the order of the day.

A constitution ensures that you're free to choose and discern in life's key aspects, like where you live, who you associate with and what you do for a living. The important frameworks are already in place. Sure, you can work on fixing what you feel is wrong with government, but in the meantime the most fruitful course of action to accept the system as it is and work within its limitations; instead of waiting for things to be just right before you do anything.

You have to know when to take the citizenship hat off and see life as an apolitical individual. Many are are too busy looking at what their government needs to fix instead of maximizing the laws, rights and opportunities already in place for their benefit. You have the tools to lead yourself.

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