Acting out of Good, Community and Democracy

This is a second blog inspired by Jonathan Haidt’s article WHY THE PAST 10 YEARS OF AMERICAN LIFE HAVE BEEN UNIQUELY STUPID It’s not just a phase published by Atlantic monthly April 11, 2022. Jonathan Haidt is a social psychologist at the New York University Stern School of Business. He is the author of The Righteous Mind and the co-author of The Coddling of the American Mind, which originated as a September 2015 Atlantic story.

I will open this blog with a quote from Mr. Haidt’s article

When Tocqueville toured the United States in the 1830s, he was impressed by the American habit of forming voluntary associations to fix local problems, rather than waiting for kings or nobles to act, as Europeans would do. That habit is still with us today. In recent years, Americans have started hundreds of groups and organizations dedicated to building trust and friendship across the political divide, including BridgeUSA, Braver Angels (on whose board I serve), and many others listed at We cannot expect Congress and the tech companies to save us. We must change ourselves and our communities.

Acting out our Sense of Good through decisions in local community has at least one distinct advantage; the local community provides nearly immediate feedback. The feedback is often messier than the messages of the curated print of newspaper columns and blogs.  It becomes even more difficult when the community’s feedback conflicts in part or whole with one’s own individual Sense of Good and or Sense of Community. In training this model I point out that the fissure in our society is the fault line between Sense of Community and Sense of Democracy. TGD is a sequential process and we have grown tired of the hard work required to link community to national political culture. What I have been training is that healing has to be ground up (individual to national service) rather than top down which leads invariably away from democracy toward authoritatian forms of governance.

Tocqueville was right to be amazed by this country’s original local spirit. A relatively new expression of very local democratic administration in this country can be found in the now nearly ubiquitous Homeowners Associations (HOAs) that dot our cities and towns.  In participating in HOA governance decisions you find out quickly and directly who in your community understands and can work with the nuances involved in being a ‘public person’ on a Board, and who simply sees governance as a mechanism to have one’s way with the world.  I have had years experience (perhaps too many) on every kind of Board, including HOAs, and have had to engage in long phone calls, irritated street side conversations, and legal challenges from friends and neighbors as we try to solve problems that impact the whole community.  Too frequently fellow board members or individual community members tried to enforce their private, personal First Pause Sense of Good in terms of values and aesthetics on their community without reference to the covenants or laws which represent in effect the formal rule-of-law adopted by the community as a whole. At times a board can become a micro-community within the larger community and fail in the hard word of maintaining the requirements as stated in their legal identity. This tendency to drift away from your public identity in a democracy begins with humble HOA covenant and ends with US Constitution. The litmus test for your Sense of Democracy tends to be how you react to the frustration of your own Sense of Good or Community. Volunteering for a HOA is one way we can increase our understanding of the nuances of governance at local, state, and federal levels. There is a vast gulf of skill and technique between ‘fixing local problems’ through a democratic process and simply imposing the will of a minority on a larger community. Tocqueville would probably be disappointed in our neglect of teaching civic skills and the ‘public role to our children in our public schools today. Democracy at any level is non-intuitive because we are required to find the capacity within ourselves to remain civil and involved even when our Sense of Good and Sense of Community are conflicted by the process of governance. As citizens of a democracy we are obligated to master two roles in our life times; the private citizen and the public citizen, We are in deep trouble in the realm of the public. Martin Luther King spoke of the importance of “unenforceable obligations” and perhaps learning to skillfully work with community, messy as it will be is one of those unenforceable obligations. The Good Decision was designed initially to bring this hard truth home to people who work in the public sector and while I worked hard to make the model clear and understandable, I never tried to make it easy. The four pauses of TGD are a necessary inconvenience if you want the authority of your community’s decisions to rise out of a democratic process.

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