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Hypothetical Hostages April 24, 2014

It was intended to be a game. Each of us had been handed a paper outlining a hypothetical hostage scenario. Terrorists had taken control of a plane and were offering to release four of the hostages under the condition that they were allowed to refuel the aircraft at a nearby airbase. We were to presume that the captors would keep their word. We were then given brief biographies of each of the passengers and instructed to determine who should go free.

When we’d finished, our professor divided us into groups and, laying down a few ground rules, instructed us to come to a consensus regarding the order of release. It was not as easy as it sounds. Did we let the guy with the hero complex go in the hope that the hostages who remained on the plane wouldn’t suffer the consequences of his ill-considered antagonism? What about the mothers? Were they of more value than the fathers? Was the ex-con who was getting his life together less likely to contribute to the good of society than the priest who was ministering to thousands of vagrants? Was the congresswoman less worthy of life than the pregnant actress? Was it even possible that some of the hostages deserved to die?

Each member of the group had a different perspective and it wasn’t long before many in the room were arguing with such passion that one would have thought our hypothetical hostages were, in fact, quite real. Tempers flared. Voices were raised. The activity was becoming deeply personal… and deeply revealing.

“The problem,” I observed, “is that we don’t know what the future holds for any of these people. Perhaps the congresswoman who is inspiring so many young girls will turn out to be involved in drug-trafficking. Maybe the son of the convict will watch his dad get his life back in order and be inspired to do something truly noble with his life. Who is to say whether the actress’s unborn child would grow up to cure cancer or oppress the needy?” Looking at paragraph long bios wasn’t enough to tell us the true worth of any of the individuals on the plane. Then again, perhaps that was the point.

When we gathered together at the end of class to discuss our conclusions, it was evident that everyone had weighed different factors in determining who would be set free. All four groups agreed to release the humanitarian with the weak heart and, for some reason that none of us could clearly explain, the young mother who had three children by three different fathers and was trying to get her life back on track. Only two groups decided to allow the bigot with the loud mouth go free. The congresswoman got a vote, as did the actress.

Everyone in the class had seen the problem through different eyes. Our own beliefs and experiences had formed a filter through which we viewed others. And it was clear that the life of each of the hypothetical hostages was valuable in the mind of at least one member of the class. Sitting among us, there were those who could see through each of the passengers’ eyes, empathize with them in their sorrows or triumphs, and believe in their potential. Perhaps the lesson wasn’t about hypothetical hostages after all.


“Of the People, By the People, and For the People”: Why I Am to Blame for the Shutdown of the U. S. Government – Part II October 24, 2013

Ask me to tell you a bit about the legislation that has passed through the House and Senate this last year and I’ll have to be honest with you: I can’t.  Truth be told, with the exception of the few highly controversial bits which have made their way onto the evening news (and even most of those didn’t pass in 2013), I have no real idea what my elected officials have been doing.

Transfer this scenario to a business situation and it becomes outrageous.  Can you imagine a store manager hiring an employee, telling him he liked his ethics and then leaving him alone without any supervision or direction except to step in periodically when he made a mistake?  It sounds ridiculous, yet too many of us do just that after casting our vote.  Happy to have “our candidate” in office, we sit back, relax, and leave the steering to our representatives without even once questioning how well they know the very people they are serving.

This lackadaisical approach became evident to me when in the course of a dialogue with a friend she mentioned that she had actually written to her elected officials regarding an issue which concerned her.  With a tone of lament indicating that I really don’t have time for such “radical” involvement, admitted that I hadn’t.

Oddly enough, she didn’t let me off the hook. “It wasn’t a long letter,” she explained.  “They don’t have time to read epics.  But it was long enough to clarify where I stood and why.  It took only a few minutes to write and I sent the same letter to each of them via e-mail.”  (Click the highlighted links if you’d like to know how to contact your Senators and Representatives.)

It was clear that she recognized something important which I had been ignoring: that it’s our responsibility to ensure that our representatives know what we expect from them, not their responsibility to drag that information out of us.  This, of course, highlighted another important problem: if I am responsible for giving direction to those who represent me, then I am also responsible for knowing which direction I want them to go.  And that’s a question that I can’t answer unless I’m willing to invest at least a little bit of time in learning about and understanding what is actually going on in Washington.  (I say “actually” because it’s all too easy to get our news from secondary sources: a special interest group we sympathize with, a nightly news broadcast, or even a good friend who we trust to “stay on top” of the issues.)

I went in search of a few sources to help me stay informed and found a few that are actually quite useful:

  • For information on legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives, take a look at www.house.gov/legislative where you’ll find a calendar to keep you up to date on what’s taking place on the House floor and in committee.
  • For information on the U. S. Senate, check out http://www.senate.gov/pagelayout/legislative/ where you’ll find links to floor proceedings, committee hearings, and the Congressional Record.
  • For a quick look at the bills, themselves, check out the Daily Digest which provides a condensed list of all the bills currently under consideration in both the House and Senate with a link to the text of each piece of legislation.
  • And to look for the text of a specific piece of legislation, visit the Library of Congress and follow the search cues.

There are, of course, some other great sources, but these provide a start.  Taking the time to peruse them is the first step for citizens who, like myself, are willing to acknowledge that what happens in Washington isn’t Washington’s fault, but our own.  Involvement is what sets our system of government apart.  So let’s get involved, make a difference, end the gridlock, and get the government running once more.


“Of the People, By the People, For the People”: Why I Am to Blame for the Shutdown of the U.S. Government – Part I October 17, 2013

Filed under: Government — acgheen @ 12:00 am
Tags: , ,

It’s been two weeks since the shutdown of the U.S. Government and during that time I’ve witnessed a fairly wide variety of responsive behaviors.  For some, the shutdown has been only mildly influential.  The worst they’ve experienced as a result is an inability to access a few useful government websites.  For others, the effects have been earth-shattering, leaving them scrambling to find the money to pay their bills.  Oddly enough, however, the most prevalent response seems to have less to do with lifestyle and far more to do with blame.

There is no denying that the shutdown has resulted from a combination of poor legislation and bad budgeting… but on whose part?  Human tendency is to see the bulk of the blame as lying with the other side and sadly, such beliefs often degenerate into name-calling and fact twisting.  Under which presidency (because we all know that the chief executive is entirely responsible for everything congress does while he is in charge) did spending increase by the greatest dollar amount?  Under whose supervision did spending increase by the greatest percentage?  (I love the way a simply rephrasing of the question can dramatically alter who seems to have handled the money most ineffectively.)  Are the Republicans to blame?  The Democrats?  Elected officials in general?  Or is there more to our present dilemma than meets the eye?

As I pondered this question, I couldn’t help feeling a pang of guilt. We live in a “democratic republic” (at least, that was what they called it when I was in school) and one of the key features of our political system is citizen involvement.  We have no hereditary governing class; those who hold office do so because “we the people” have placed them there.  It is patriotic citizens like myself who bear the burden of this responsibility.  We read the literature.  We listen to the debates.  We go to the polls.

That said, I have to admit that my contribution as a “responsible citizen” is often far less than it ought to be.  With some shame, I confess that I usually cast my vote based upon a candidate’s stance on a relatively narrow range of issues.  Does he support more funding for education?  How does he feel about gun control?  Will he vote to protect the rights of every American or of only a few?

The result is that I find myself asking, “Is it really enough just to ensure that I’m happy with a candidate’s basic philosophy?”  If it is, can I really be certain that his stance on a few issues is sufficient to guarantee that he’ll fully represent my beliefs and convictions once he finds himself in Washington?  And who is responsible if he doesn’t?  Is it his for failing to do the job I sent him to do?  Or is it mine for failing to ensure that I’ve elected the right person?  Or worse yet, is it mine for taking such a hands-off approach to a governmental process designed to involve each of us?

 (To be continued…)


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