I have enjoyed many tour guides on this journey, all of whom have been extremely knowledgeable and entertaining. A compassionate and educated Turk, Greek nationalists with continental flair, Slavic historians who seem to have the very tough job of sorting through their complicated past, both ancient and recent. But my favorite guide, and we all have our favorites, was a young woman from Dubrovnik, who made the statement, “we have not yet figured out the rules of democracy, but we are learning.” This statement struck me. Did she mean the principles of democracy? Or was she referring to the rules of conduct, the behavior of those within a democracy? I suspect she meant the former, but all I could think of was how we play at being democratic as if it were a monopoly game, making up rules as we go, how self-interest is the overriding purpose of it all.
Consider the following points from What is Democracy, a lecture published by Stanford University from Larry Diamond, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. The rules, the rules of conduct, that is, seem to be sadly forgotten, or at least ignored:
- Every citizen must respect the rights of his or her fellow citizens, and their dignity as human beings.
- No one should denounce a political opponent as evil and illegitimate, just because they have different views.
- People should question the decisions of the government, but not reject the government’s authority.
- Every group has the right to practice its culture and to have some control over its own affairs, but each group should accept that it is a part of a democratic state.
- When you express your opinions, you should also listen to the views of other people, even people you disagree with. Everyone has a right to be heard.
- Don’t be so convinced of the rightness of your views that you refuse to see any merit in another position. Consider different interests and points of view.
- When you make demands, you should understand that in a democracy, it is impossible for everyone to achieve everything they want.
- Democracy requires compromise. Groups with different interests and opinions must be willing to sit down with one another and negotiate.
Be civil, America. Especially during this upcoming election year. The world is watching, as it always does.