We Ignore What Doesn’t Seem to Matter

I think I’ve heard it in a few different cartoons. Certainly it appears in books and TV shows and rap music. It’s a variation on the quote:

People fear what they do not understand.

I do like to know the origins of things, and no one seems to have figured this one out. But I also find that statements about the human condition tend to become universal. This is how we think about other people. If they don’t understand, then they are going to be afraid.

I suppose it’s true. It’s seemingly the message of every movie about aliens, that we fear [them] because we don’t understand [them.]

But I think government is different. Yes, basically nobody understands how it is structured, what officials and bureaucrats do, and how those people are motivated. The experts who study the public can tell you that most citizens are pretty disappointed in their elected leaders [1] and also that most citizens don’t know much of anything about their elected leaders. [2]

That’s weird by itself. But I believe something different is going on. I don’t think people fear their government as much as they just ignore it. Most people I talk to about politics shake their head and roll their eyes and hope to change the subject.

Because really, why should we pay attention to something which doesn’t appear to be paying attention to us? There are protests and rallies and election days, but for most people there is very little change.

Instead, I want government to be something everyone understands. That doesn’t need to come through intense study, however, but through the profound power of trust.

Because if you believe someone in government actually cares, then you have a reason to pay attention. To give feedback. To participate. To do more than sigh and walk away.

If you trusted the person in Congress representing you. Imagine what would happen.


[1] https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2020/09/14/americans-views-of-government-low-trust-but-some-positive-performance-ratings/

[2] https://www.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/americans-civics-knowledge-increases-2019-survey/

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