Last night I sat down on my couch and went channel surfing and found myself watching football. I gradually drifted off to sleep for a few minutes until I woke up and arose to do something else. If your favorite teams are playing, it is easy to pay attention because you feel invested in your team. However, when your team is not playing, it is easy to do other things and not pay attention — the game becomes background noise.
As students, we don’t have a lot of direct influence or money, so it is easy to sit by and become a spectator in the grand arena of government. We learned about the checks and balance system of government so we could pass our junior high Constitution test, but after that test many students have never read the preamble again. The Constitution sits in the National Archives where tourists gape at it as if it were a distant memory formulated by some old dead guys in a room 237 years ago.
We are deaf to the words of the country’s founders and the reasons why provisions are in this government system. Benjamin Franklin said in response to the conflict between England and her colonies that “passion governs and she never governs wisely.” The dead old guys sitting in a room understood that feelings and emotions can lead nations down dreaded paths.
Politics is not fantasy football; it is a reality where all of our decisions have meaning and power. The best word to describe a student’s role in politics would be “responsibility.” Many cringe when they hear this word. Students do not want to do anything more than they have to, because school and personal relationships are what matter at this point in life. People are naturally reactive and not proactive and the current school system is set up this way. You get an assignment, then you do it; you’re given material, then you take a test.
Politics and intelligent voting involves a proactive approach where individuals must choose to seize information for themselves and make decisions based upon what they see. We are responsible for what we learn and for what we do with that knowledge. There are more sources of information on political subjects and politicians than ever before, but in the last decade the United States has had some of the lowest voter turnout ratios in the country’s history.
As students, we have become accustomed to being spoon-fed information, so why should we all of a sudden have to proactively search for information ourselves? When the whale used in the film “Free Willy” was released back into the wild, the whale died from starvation because he was so accustomed to being fed by his trainers that he did not know how to hunt for himself. We must be careful that we do not end up like Keiko, unable to fend for ourselves and reliant on others for everything.
For those who are paying attention to politics right now, the concept of personal responsibility is being debated in side issues such as health care reform, gun rights and homeland security issues. As students, we may not think these issues directly affect us, but when we graduate, find a job, get married and own property, these issues take the center stage. Jobs, marriage and property all involve responsibility by themselves but also carry with them moral responsibility for maintaining the rights to life, liberty and property.
Each generation is not just responsible for the condition of their own natural rights, but is responsible for the rights of future generations as well. However, the more disillusioned students become with government, the more reserved and uninterested they become. If their children are never taught to embrace their role in their own government, the government will cease to belong to the people.
The dream that all mankind is created equal before the law and that all are entitled to pursue life, liberty and property without inhibition will die and decay with the old guys who drafted the ideas. If we learn to embrace our freedoms now and cast our voices into the political arena, we will be heard and we will carry on the dreams of those who came before us. If we do not embrace these freedoms, no one will embrace them for us and we will lose them forever.