A democracy of one

Peter Osborn


May 2021

It’s easy to view democracy as the holding of elections, like those that are taking place today across the UK. But as we’ve seen recently in the USA, democracy isn’t that straightforward – especially when large numbers decide to ignore the polls and choose a narrative in which they try to get their own way regardless of the vote.

So how can we as individuals make sure that what’s happening there doesn’t happen here?

Clearly we can’t rely on the system to do it for us. The spirit of ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people’ means that we can’t just duck out and leave the health of our democracy to others. It's ours, after all, and without our care and support it can easily become ever more fragile. 

One way to protect it is for each of us to create a democracy of one.

Make the effort

Creating a democracy of one means making the effort to transform ourselves into people with broader, more balanced views. It means seeking opportunities to understand how other people see things. It doesn’t mean agreeing, of course, but it does mean actively creating around us – within us –  a more nutritious, more varied diet of ideas from which to grow as individuals and as a society. 

I had a conversation a few years ago with a friend in the USA in which I was describing the Brexit situation prior to the vote here.

The friend didn’t offer any opposition to what I was saying and I got the impression we were in broad agreement. 

But many months later I heard from somebody else that the friend actually saw things very differently and hadn’t questioned or challenged me because they didn’t want to offend me.

I wouldn’t have been offended in the slightest. If I were to be offended at all it would be because someone thinks I’m not capable of discussing a view that’s different from my own.

And I think that’s where the danger lies.

A healthy information diet

There is a real and present danger of our precious democracy dying of malnutrition because 'we, the people' don’t feed ourselves a sufficiently varied diet of information and experiences.

Fortunately, this is something that anyone can start addressing right now.

All it takes is to listen to some different people or read some different stuff. Stuff that challenges us. We can flip the channel, take in some different views, ask the people we know well some different questions. We can welcome opportunities to look at things in new ways without feeling threatened, and discuss difference without trying to win arguments.

So that’s my vote. Become an open-minded, thriving democracy of one – and spread the habit. Then there is at least some hope for us all.

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