team sport

Ending the Age of the Spectator

Much of our society, for whatever reasons, has become a “spectator culture” in which we have removed ourselves from the field of play and have grown content to sit in the grandstands. This is commonly seen at sporting events, where we applaud the exceptional prowess of great athletes. And that’s expected. But we have also carried over this behavior to our engagement (or non-engagement) with other aspects of our lives including our children’s education, community issues and politics.

We may fool ourselves into thinking we are engaged because we care a lot about who is doing what but that is not being in the game. It is being a spectator, not a player.

Let me take one example of a game: U.S. governance. Since the U.S. is currently the most powerful country in the world, this is a pretty major game, a game whose outcome affects the entire world!


team sport


First, A Few Numbers

We are a nation of approximately 320 resident stakeholders. To continue with the game metaphor, there are 320 million “team” owners. Our governance has been delegated to 100 U.S. Senators, 435 representatives in the House and one President – the “team.” That is 536 people we have hired to govern, or one person for every 600,000 citizens.

That’s a pretty sizable job, representing 600,000 Americans each. But now let’s add another bit of complexity – lobbyists. The Nation estimates there are 12,281 registered lobbyists in Washington, including the ones “going underground” to “obscure their activity.” Nonetheless, this number of special interest group advocates amounts to 23 lobbyists for each legislator; this means 23 people trying to influence each of our team players for some special treatment in addition to their regular job which is to run the country!

Is there any wonder nothing “gets done” in our nation’s capitol? Actually, quite a bit gets done but not what we hired our legislators to do, which is to govern. What gets done are favors being exchanged, but the people’s needs are being ignored.  I wrote about some of this in my guest blog at the Global Dialogue Center last fall: “Mister Smith is Dead: They Don’t Go to Washington to Serve Anymore.”

Democracy is a Team Sport 

This country was formed by dedicated citizens who were willing to put some skin in the game – to invest their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor, to paraphrase the last line of our Declaration of Independence. Our present day spectator culture is allowing our nation to be hijacked by self interests who can afford to provide incentives for our elected representatives to take their eyes off of the job they were hired for and, instead, do the job the hijackers want them to do.

Our team’s performance will not improve by replacing players – voting in new legislators. Self interests are winning – the self interests of the lobbyists, their clients and the legislators, those people we hired to work for us. The system will continue to become even more dysfunctional unless we intercede. Presently, there are insufficient forces opposing this downward spiral. As long as we remain spectators it will continue to degrade.

If we want representative governance in this country we need to get out of the bleachers and get very vocal about what we demand as a citizenry – as the people who pay the incredibly generous compensations to our officials in Washington.

Watching from the grandstands has to end. If it doesn’t, and we allow the hijacking to continue, we can know that we once had a good thing and we gave it away. When violent demonstrations occur because of the growing wealth gap between the 00.01 percent who have a lot and are getting even more  and the 99.99 percent who have much less, very little, and very little we can know we could have avoided it. Through our laziness, our lack of grit, our indifference, we will know that we allowed the American Dream to wither and die as our country’s carcass was picked clean.

A Call for Revolution: Taking Back Our Country

The good news is that we needn’t dust off our muskets and leave our homes like our forefathers did. There is no occupying army to fight. But there is an enemy. The enemy is our own apathy and cynicism, our unwillingness to take strong stands and remain committed to those stands. The enemy is a perfect storm of dysfunctional systems that we have allowed to develop without any real opposition.

This is a call to revolution. It is a call to revolt against business as usual in our nation’s capitol.  It is a call for revolution of the spirit, a call for real democracy, justice and fairness. It is a call for transformation of the way we think and act – a call to become fully alive! It is a call for responsible engagement by our citizenry – becoming fully grown up, adult citizens. We outnumber our national legislators by 600,000 to one; we have the odds in our favor. It is time to recognize that we are the ones who give our leaders their legitimacy and we can take it away!

It needn’t get violent, but it will require toughness. It needn’t get nasty, but it could when sacred cows get gored. It needn’t be disrespectful, but vested interests in the status quo will likely get upset. However tough, nasty or rude this revolution may be, it will not be nearly as horrific as the kinds of violent rebellions and uprisings that await us when things get so unjust, so unfair and so painful that real revolutions erupt.

The only thing keeping the playing field from being leveled is the silent consent, the seeming legitimacy of business as usual when there is no vocal opposition from the majority. This invites even further abuse of power by the few in control. Once the hijackers realize they are vastly outnumbered by seriously committed people bent on taking back their country they can steal away in the night. We might not be able to make them give it back but we can prevent  further pillaging.