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Editorial: Make a resolution that brings a more perfect union

Too many are dissatisfied with our government and mistrustful of fellow citizens. Let’s change that.

By The Herald Editorial Board

So, how are the resolutions going?

As far as keeping the promises to yourself you made Friday night before the ball (or your eyelids) dropped — the ones about weight, exercise, TV viewing habits and so forth — those really are your business to keep. Or not. We’re in no position to nag, even though that’s kind of the job description.

But usually, we keep such directives directed at government bodies, public officials and others with influence and tax dollars to wield on the public’s behalf. And we’ve got all of this year to pester those folks.

Yet, we do have one resolution — OK, it’s got a few parts to it — that we’d like to suggest our readers consider adding to their list and working to keep.

1. Resolve to be better citizens and community members.

For most of us, we tick the box on that responsibility each day just by fulfilling our regular commitments to family, jobs, school and the other tasks we face. So why ask more of you when you’ve got enough on your plate, especially two years into an energy-sucking pandemic?

Because, a little extra effort collectively can make a huge difference in our satisfaction about our communities, all levels of government and democracy in general.

And right now, we’re not satisfied and we don’t think we’re alone in that assessment.

Two years ago, even before the pandemic, a Pew Research Center survey found that declining trust in government was making it harder to solve the problems that face us. The survey found that two-thirds of adults polled believed that other Americans had little or no confidence in the federal government and majorities even had doubts about their fellow Americans.

Still, most weren’t giving up and knew it was important; 68 percent said it was very important to restore confidence in the federal government and 58 percent said the same about regaining faith in others.

Not all the numbers were gloomy; those polled still had either great or a fair amount of confidence in fellow citizens to report a serious problem to authorities (75 percent), obey laws (73 percent), do what was necessary to help others (69 percent) and work together to solve community problems (61 percent).

But our confidence in others was lacking elsewhere. Even before the 2020 election and the pandemic, just 53 percent had great or a fair amount of confidence that others would accept certified election results; that others would reconsider their opinions when learning new information (49 percent), would respect the rights of others (48 percent), would cast informed votes (43 percent) or even could have civil conversations with those who held views different from theirs (42 percent).

And you thought President Biden was alone in his low approval numbers (43 percent)?

Back to those other resolutions for a moment: We resolve to improve our diets and get more exercise on the promise of better health and longer and more fulfilling lives. The same is true for the resolution to become more active in our citizenship; it offers the promise of better communities, state and nation, a stronger democracy and greater opportunities for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Those benefits come through the exercise of citizenship. Our participation restores our confidence in government and community because we have more opportunities to better see the influence we can have. At the same time, our participation assists our representatives on school boards, city councils, state legislatures and Congress to make decisions because they have more information on the outcomes of their decisions and more confidence in the policies and decisions we want to see carried out, even when opinions are split on a course of action.

As stated earlier, this is a multi-part resolution. Here’s what resolving to be more active citizens and community members requires:

Vote, of course. And in every election. Snohomish County voters showed up for the 2020 election, with a near-record 85 percent turnout. But while those numbers have been strong for even-year elections for state and federal offices, more of us are skipping the off-year elections when local races for county council, city councils, school boards and other local leaders determine representatives for the decisions that have the most immediate effect on our lives.

Everett voters last year not only voted in a mayoral election, they also choose five of seven seats on the city council. Turnout for the mayor’s race was just 31 percent of the city’s 60,086 registered voters. Turnout in each of the five council districts ranged between about 36 percent and 22 percent, meaning that between about 1 in 3 to 1 in 5 voters made those decisions for the rest, those who were registered to vote and sent ballots but didn’t vote and offered no opinion in the election’s outcome.

Stay informed. And develop a varied and broad media diet. Read, listen and watch coverage on issues from different sources and consider how those perspectives might differ from each other and why. Be wary, however, of the information made available through social media, especially from unfamiliar sources. We’re learning that Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets — looking to generate the highest levels of user engagement — make the most of our inherent and natural bias toward the negative and promote those posts that generate more heat than light. Some cable news personalities — those more concerned with inciting anger and discontent than simply expressing opinions — should be viewed with suspicion, too.

Know the difference between skepticism and cynicism. You shouldn’t accept everything you’re told on its face. But check what your told against other information you can find. Doing so can help build trust in particular sources of information and is more productive than simply assuming bad intent from those you have disagreed with in the past and holding on to that distrust.

Discuss. Talk over your concerns with your neighbors, your friends, fellow parents, co-workers, church members. Let them know what your thinking, then listen for their perspective. Be open to information that might cause you to reconsider your opinions.

Write. Are you a better communicator behind a keyboard than in person? We get that. Share your thoughts in a letter to the editor and letters to representatives of all levels of government. Get your opinions on the record, because that record is used to justify decisions.

Attend meetings. One workaround during the pandemic has required everything from boards and councils to the state Legislature to hold meetings virtually, allowing more to watch from home and on smartphones. Even after pandemic restrictions are lifted, expect that option to watch and even provide comment and testimony to remain in place. And if you don’t have time for the full meeting, check online for an agenda to help you gauge when you can comment, give hearing testimony or when a decision will be made that concerns you.

The hard part about keeping resolutions is that — especially just days after making them — it can be difficult to recognize any improvement resulting from our efforts. But continued practice turns resolutions into habits. And habits make for the outcomes we seek.

A more perfect union should be on our list.

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