As the absurdity of our presidential nomination process adds daily to public cynicism about politics and government, it's encouraging to recognize that governing is not the responsibility of government alone.
Historically, the word "govern" comes from a nautical Greek term meaning "to steer or pilot a ship." Dictionary definitions of what it means to govern convey the same sense:
—to control or guide the actions of (someone or something).
—to control, direct or strongly influence the actions and conduct of
—to exert a determining or guiding influence in or over
—to hold in check
—to prevail or have decisive influence
—to exercise authority.
Clearly, there's a lot more to governing than government!
If we are married, our spouses can definitely "control, direct or strongly influence" our "actions and conduct." Other close family and friends also hold us "in check" and accountable. Their views, too, often "prevail or have decisive influence." They also support us, encourage us, guide us and lend a helping hand when needed.
Moving beyond the family circle, our commitments to employers and community groups help us become productive members of society. They often "exercise authority" and "exert a determining or guiding influence."
That's true, whether the associations we form are community groups in the traditional geographic sense, online communities or a workplace. Some groups are as informal as meeting co-workers after work for a beer on Friday afternoons or starting the morning on a power-walk with friends. Others are more formal, everything from churches and charities to sports leagues, theater groups and garden clubs. And, of course, we're just beginning to understand how Facebook groups and other new forms of community fit into this process.
Few think of these ties as having anything to do with governance, but they are absolutely vital to the governing of society. "Communities endowed with a diverse stock of social networks and civic associations are in a stronger position to confront poverty and vulnerability, resolve disputes, and take advantage of new opportunities," according to "Bowling Alone"'s Robert Putnam. Studies have also shown that "social networks, both formal and informal, reduce crime" and have "powerful effects... on physical health."
The absence of such community involvement in governing society has clearly negative consequences. After Hurricane Sandy, AP reported that "neighborhoods lacking in social cohesion and trust generally had a more difficult time recovering."
Additionally, these formal and informal associations are places where people learn about, process and begin to act upon the news of the day. That includes everything from what the president said the night before to which companies are hiring or moving away to who is sick and needs some help to get through. When there is an emergency, these are the groups that mobilize the community by spreading the word and offering a plan of action.
We do need to connect this community governing process with larger state and nation policy issues. But, no matter how trivial and out of touch the presidential campaign becomes, we can remain optimistic by remembering that most governing of society takes place closer to home.
No matter who wins the White House, the informal government of community relationships will play a bigger role in governing our society than the rules, regulations, and policies of the formal government in Washington.
To find out more about Scott Rasmussen and to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.