Public participation is food for the soul

Seattle-based author Paul Loeb has long been writing on civic involvement. His latest book, "Soul of a Citizen," calls for "living with conviction in a cynical time." While his book draws mainly on the experiences of "social justice" activists on the political left, Mr. Loeb says that he's had a good response from conservatives. The Monitor recently spoke with him.

On participation in civic life:

We've all but forgotten that public participation is the very soul of democratic citizenship. When you get involved in something meaningful, you make your life count. When people say, "There's nothing we can do," someone needs to insist that it's just not true. It's important for people to act on what is most important.

On cynicism:

Cynicism pervades our culture: Better to expect nothing, in this view, than to set ourselves up for certain disappointment. It's as great a barrier to hope and meaningful public action as all the other barriers combined. What lifts me out of it is finding lives of people that are inspiring. If I take their lives seriously, I can't be cynical, because change is possible.

On the media:

People in media and politics should be promoting integrity. Instead, they give us a sense that everyone's on the take and that working for a larger common good is impossible. Cynicism promotes sales.

On campaign-finance reform:

Of all issues, this was among the most hopeful, because it drew support across the political system. We want a less cynical world for our children. We should feel proud about having extended the vote to people without property, to women, to blacks. Clearly, this was progress, but many now feel that the vote doesn't matter, because campaign finance is out of control.

On children and civic life:

There are no easy answers, but there are ways to integrate our kids in our public life. My 10-year-old stepson passed out campaign literature to help a candidate win a city council race, despite being massively outspent. Also, adults must set models for their kids. They're watching. Our actions set models for their lives.

On college students:

They are often totally maligned. I feel there is a lot more substance to their lives than they get credit for. For example, the role of college students in the anti-apartheid movement was decisive, yet when I go on campuses today, I find that college students don't know about this. There is a strong conviction among them that those who act at 20 sell out by 40. That's a cynical myth and a misreading of history.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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