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Minnich: Are the elders up to the job?

Every village, tribe, nation — (planet?) — needs elders to sort out the rules as challenges to the status quo are evolving. Makes no difference whether its families huddling in shelters in a rain forest or a gathering of demigods sipping spirits and plotting the accumulation of great riches and domination of enemies, elders are essential to success not just in the moment, but some order for ongoing relevance.

Historically, the elders were those who took the title by force or by heritage; the king handed down the authorities of leadership to heirs and appointed loyalists to ensure control over the masses.

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In some ways it was easier to be an elder when all you were expected to do was be loyal to the king, or some narrow slice of culture or theology. Less complicated, but risky. If you were judged by the monarch to be disloyal or merely not useful, you could lose your head.

One order of business among some who would be elders seems to be to decide who wins and who loses. Key to a strategy is managing information — or manipulating it — and protecting the inner circles from too much scrutiny.

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Today, we are seeing that loyalty to a personality can lead to disgrace, loss of fortune and personal freedom, and bitter national division.

So, there is a flaw in the system of running things by elders under the thumb of a few people in power. Our nation was formed on the idea that any responsible adult should have a right to participate in deciding who would serve as an elder.

The problem with this system is that it relies on those who are affected to act like each and every one of us is sort of an elder. Grownups are supposed to know things about the intricacies of self-governance and negotiating on the stages of the world in commerce and war and peace and justice. And then we are expected to use that special privilege and vote.

This is why the first enemy of the tyrant is the town crier — or the media. It’s easier to rebut the assertions of a known opponent with an agenda than an idealist who has accepted responsibility for seeking facts and the courage to speak up.

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Who decides in these times what is relevant?

I recall a quote by the writer Saul Bellow: “A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.”

The impeachment inquiries and news conferences are irritating but necessary.

As elders, each of us with a vote — or a desire to someday have the privilege of a vote — must suck it up and pay attention.

And think.

Ask questions.

Who is seeking information and who is trying to change the subject?

Why would worthy elders/leaders resist answering questions truthfully?

What has been happening to those who have chosen loyalty to power over maintaining the ideals of our expectations?

What would be the consequences of failing to hold our elders up to the standards that were established to keep us a nation of free citizens, safe in our differences and faithful to the ideal that government shall be of laws rather than of men (personalities) and free of coercion, intimidation or bribery?

I have little sympathy for those elected officials who fear losing public office if they make an unpopular decision. The point is not just the prestige and power and financial rewards of being an elder; it’s more than being a good partisan or team player.

Because it’s not just a game — something that I know partisan politics can be. It’s being a wise and courageous leader whose actions are always in the best interests all the players, whatever team, relying on a level field and fair rules.

Above reproach, but never above the law.

Dean Minnich retired from journalism and served two terms in public office. His email address is dminnichwestm@gmail.com.

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