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Gary Thornock's Weblog » Overcoming Apathy
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26th Sep, 2005

Overcoming Apathy


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One of the recurrring themes in the discussion at Pete Ashdown's public meeting tonight was the difficulty in overcoming apathy: how do you reach the huge number of people in this country whose public participation doesn't even extend to spending five minutes marking a ballot?

I believe that most apathy stems from one of two sources: lack of belief that you can make a difference, or lack of vision.

The former is well summarized by a signature quote I saw on Slashdot a couple of months ago: "Q: How many voters does it take to change a light bulb? A: None. Voters can't change anything." What a frightening statement. More frightening is the realization that many, many people believe it.

The antidote to this sense of powerlessness is collaboration and involvement: when a person can contribute and see meaningful results from his contribution, it's impossible to continue in the belief that he can't make a difference. Transparency and openness help to highlight the ability of the individual to contribute.

The latter source of apathy is countered by leadership. The primary function of leadership is to encourage participation in a shared vision. I've written before about the need to engage the interest, the imagination and the creativity of the people in a good cause, much as the leadership of this country did decades ago in the effort to go to the moon. Our history is replete with examples of the great things that can be done, when the people participate in a shared vision, and our present day holds many examples of things that could yet be done, and things that should be done, if we but do it again.

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