Why have we lost our willingness or ability to solve problems? First, we have to talk to each other.

There are, of course, many reasons we seem to be losing our ability to talk to each other. We can blame electronic communications by reminding ourselves that the whole body with facial expressions is involved in communicating. We could also remind ourselves that communication involves someone speaking and someone listening. Those are individual problems.

I tend to see everything as a “systems” problem, so I proceeded to think of ways to fix the system. Right now, our focus seems to be on politics, so how do we fix that system so that it works? How come the people we elect don’t find solutions that may not be what everyone wants but manage to have pieces that some want?

Now seems to be a good time to question one of the basics of the system: the political party and how it operates. Both parties seem to be in crisis mode trying to figure out what they stand for, and if voters don’t know, they are sending people to the state legislatures and Congress who not only don’t represent two major parties but don’t represent most of the people.

What if a candidate could not run with an R or a D behind their name unless they had been interviewed and approved by the party? If the candidate were not endorsed by either of the major parties, could they run with another label?

Couldn’t it be possible for individuals to run as individuals without labels but with their own “platform” of issues? A lot of people would like to see a direct democracy rather than a democratic republic.

What if the whole party system was changed to a multi-party system with each allotted seats based on their proportion of the vote for the legislature and Congress? Would the individual have more choices and a wider range of philosophical stances?

Wouldn’t the voter be better informed if single-issue candidates had to define their issue and list their supporters?

If we prefer the two-party system, which has been in place for a long time, what do we need to do to preserve it? For starters, maybe the “Big Tent” theory of accommodating a variety of views should be abandoned. Right now, the minority views within the major parties are being subverted in the name of change and anti-establishment.

The trouble with trying to water down the establishment is that there are some historical ways of thinking that may or may not be reflective of the current culture or segments of that culture. Minority groups should be represented, but if the beliefs that bound them were “transparent” and accountable to voters, the major parties would not be divided, nor would the minority parties.

More importantly, the voters would have clear choices based on what they believe about the issues most important to them. Right now, there is straight party voting that, in fact, has added to the divisiveness; the people under that tent are fighting for dominance, and the voter has been hoodwinked into believing that they have voted for their own interests and they have not ... if one of their primary interests was the character of the candidate. The party structure right now tells us little about the character of the individual candidate.

Believing in small government and balanced budgets tell us no more about character than believing in government that provides people what they cannot provide for themselves, and spends more than its income.

If the major and minor parties also examined and endorsed candidates for their intelligence, experience and ability to work with others, the voter could count on candidates that not only shared their beliefs about issues but their values about living.

If the parties start representing the people rather than vice versa, how do the individual people change to affect the party? Jim Shumard, rector at St. Mark’s, suggests that instead of immediately arguing with views that upset us, we ask the other person to elaborate on their values, ideas and solutions. He says that our understanding, empathy and tolerance will increase in proportion to the respect we grant others.

None of us is quite as saintly as we should be, but so long as we find opposing points of view repugnant and other humans as sub-human, we have fenced ourselves into a narrow path of ideas and isolated ourselves from exploring other views of the truth.

Maybe we should all hum “don’t fence me in” in four-part harmony. One thing is for sure: As Americans, we are not simply individuals, we are the system. It’s up to each one of us to maintain a collective view that encourages tolerance, equality, and fraternity, not bigotry, exclusion and divisiveness.

Audrey Cotherman lives in Casper.

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