Sunday, April 25, 2010

114 / Change #2

Maybe it's because I'm a lawyer, or because I spent twenty years as an elected official, but I actually do believe that the legislative process is an apt metaphor for how genuine change occurs. It's particularly apt as we think about how we act together to create change, through the process of democratic self-government.

Thinking about how change occurs in that collective context, it is immediately clear that no community or collective body can change (in any intentional way, at least) until it first decides what it wants to do. And since there are always different ideas about what ought to be done, and since there are often good arguments for more than one idea, it's not usually the case that there is just one "right" thing to do, versus another "wrong" thing to do. The decision process is very seldom self-evident, and community change must always begin with debate. Since we do need to choose a course of action, to put change in motion, that's how we have to begin - with debate and discussion, conflict and controversy. After that comes the decision.

Using the legislative process as a metaphor for change, the discussion and debate stage is represented by what is often a searing and apparently divisive struggle, in the realm of advocacy; political campaigning and policy debate always precedes a legislative decision. Ultimately, though, the debate is ended by a decision, and that decision is made through the enactment of a law.

Unlike the "laws" that apply in the World of Nature, the laws in our world are laws we make up ourselves. They don't tell us what "will" or "must" happen. They are not "descriptive" like the laws of Nature. Human laws, the laws that govern the world we make, are "prescriptive." They tell us not what we "must" do, but what we have decided we "ought to" do.

The next stage is relatively straightforward. After the debate and discussion, leading to a decision that is represented by a written law we have given to ourselves as a "prescription," we need simply to follow the prescription we've written for ourselves, and actually do what we've decided we ought to do. If doing what we decided to do doesn't turn out to lead to the kind of change we want, if the prescription we wrote for ourselves doesn't eliminate the ills we sought to cure, we can just go back, and write ourselves another set of instructions.

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