Monday, November 28, 2011

From the Cleveland Post, October 21, 2010

Going in Circles


Kathleen S. Volcjak

I was scrubbing the siding on the house the other day to see if it was just dirty or really did need to be painted. I tried using a scrub brush attached to a long handle so I could reach the high places without a ladder.

The ratio of dirt removal to effort was frustratingly low, so I took the handle off and went at it again with just the brush. This worked much better.

It's amazing how much force and control are lost through a five foot handle. The less effort you spend stretching, the more of it goes into actual cleaning. So, yes, I'll have to lug the ladder around, but putting the effort in the right place means the house will be clean when I'm done, not just cleaner than it was.

Its a lot more than five feet from here to Raleigh, and farther than that to Washington, D.C. yet the state and federal candidates are a lot easier to sort through than the locals on the ballot. You have to really work to find information on most of them, and what you do find doesn't tell you much.

In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey talks about the Circle of Concern and the Circle of Influence. Within the Circle of Concern are the things we worry about (like who controls Congress, or the five pounds I need to lose). Within the Circle of Influence lie the things we can do something about (like voting or keeping my hand out of the cookie jar). The place where those two circles intersect, where the things you worry about are things you have control over, is the only effective place to live one's life. Focusing on stuff over which you have no control will ruin you.

Like C. S. Lewis' Screwtape, politicians have discovered that keeping voters confused on this principle is an effective way to manipulate them. Keep them focused on the desire or the fear and don't let them near pesky questions like "But is that something over which we actually have control?" Such thinking recently gave us a particularly un-conservative ad for a Republican candidate. The ad implied a local zoning issue was within the purview of the U. S. House of Representatives and a matter of concern for representatives from another state. One can only imagine the reaction if folks from that state dared to interfere in our local issues.

Voting for state and federal representatives is within both our circles of concern and influence, but I think its safe to say its on the outer edge. Two senators represent the whole state but a handful of county commissioners represent the whole county. A local vote gets more bang for the ballot (Somehow, 'buck' just didn't seem appropriate here.).

Of course, it is easy to sink one's teeth into national debates on foreign policy or modern manifestations of challenges to states' rights. Not so with zoning battles or school bell schedules. Even taxes and budgets become problematic the closer they get to home. My guess is that most of us outside of agriculture wouldn't even know where to begin with Soil and Water Conservation issues.

On the other hand, the office of Soil and Water Conservation Supervisor was deemed sufficiently influential and important to the community to make it an elected position. We - our children, principles, pocketbooks, businesses, neighbors, relatives, in-laws, and livestock - are the reason we have zoning laws and bell schedules and budgets in the first place.

We make these issues and they are the fundamental opportunity for exercising our civic philosophy. Local government is the starting point for fiscal responsibility, for fleshing out American civic life in a particular place. This is where the rubber hits the road. Heroic and tedious, all at one time.

Thinking cosmically or globally or nationally or statewide is a lot of fun. But when the beer's gone and the fire burns down, all that is left is the 'act locally' option. The closer you are to the problem, the more effort goes into actually accomplishing something.


For those who have information on local candidates and their positions, expand your circle of influence by posting comments to this column on the Cleveland Post website.

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