People often use ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ interchangeably, but these ideas, though related, are not the same. Simply put, freedom is being able to make individual choices, while democracy is a system of government based on the collective choices of the majority.
In theory, democratic processes create a system where individuals can fully express their freedoms, but historically, democratic processes have been used not only to enhance and protect our freedoms, but sometimes also to curtail or circumvent them. This is why exercising our right to vote is one freedom that is of critical importance. To build a truly functioning democratic society, we must choose for ourselves the leaders on whom we give the responsibility to protect our freedom.
This means taking stock of candidates beyond perceived common objectives and promised programs, and looking deeply into their philosophies and underlying attitude about freedom and democracy – through their bodies of work, their articulated opinions, how they are viewed in their communities and how their circle of family, friends, associates and people who work for/with them talk about them.
We must elect only those who choose to stand by their beliefs and opinions but are open-minded enough to consider/listen to those who hold opposing views – and will guarantee our right to express them. Take time to look at how the candidates handle themselves in social media, debates and interviews. Cross out from your list the names of those who claim to honor diversity yet will only recognize one voice of ‘reason’ – theirs.
We must elect only those who will be discerning enough to recognize what John Adams put so well: “Those passions of vanity, pride, avarice, or ambition are the same in all men, under all forms of simple government, and when unchecked, produce the same effects of fraud, violence, and cruelty” – and by how they conducted themselves, have proven their discipline, ethics and selfcontrol in subordinating these passions in favor of the good.
We must elect only the candidates who will ensure that the benefits of democracy will accrue more to those who have less in life than for the protection of the favored few. Hence, we must check and double-check what their affiliations and interests are – and whether these represent conflict of interest that will prejudice their decisions and actions.
We must elect only the candidates who are adherents of law and order – but only as they enhance the quality of life of every individual and not for the whims and caprices of the majority. Many times, this will require rising above the noise of mob rule to clearly seeing how it will affect citizenry who do not have the means to express their views and be heard.
We must elect only those candidates who hold themselves accountable for the public trust and who will apply the values of true and selfless service more rigidly to themselves first, before legislating this for the population. Those who cannot walk their talk will not walk ours either.
We must elect only the candidates who understand that majority and minority are just numbers. Hence, the solutions must strike a balance between the will of the majority and the rights of the minority; that while common good is addressed, it should also provide safety nets for those whose concerns are as real as those who outnumber them. After all, the whole is the sum of all parts, big and small; and entitlements should not be enjoyed at the expense of the others. That is not to say that such deliberations delay decisive actions; it just means that we stop, look and listen before we leap. When the time comes to pass the papers, it’s ensuring that there are no blanks, even if there are uncertainties.
We must elect only the candidates who will be humble enough to accept that they will not have all the answers; nor the sole prerogative for the public office they occupy, and therefore, can voluntarily step aside for others who can discharge responsibilities more capably when the time comes. The role is to pave the way for the next leaders to come in; the responsibility is in preparing them for the task.
In whatever form of governments across many countries, not one is perfect; many times, they even prove to be bad for the individuals and the society. This is not because of the form of government per se – but in the way those tasked for governance carried out their mandates. Therefore, we must use our freedom to elect who will represent us with analytical perspective, carefully reviewing the credentials of every candidate and especially how they lived their proclaimed ‘values’ and so-called ‘priorities’. We must exercise caution and a sense of legacy that how we decide today will impact the lives of the generations after us.
We live in turbulent and disruptive times and the challenges we face will require leaders who are human enough to recognize their limitations, but whose actions will reflect respect for every individual; and working for the fundamentals that will enable them to continue enjoying their freedom – whether its personal, economic, political or socio-cultural.
Our time to exercise our freedom of making that choice is coming. It may be the only time when we can make our voices be heard decisively and influence the outcomes. We must make those choices conscious of the responsibility – even burden – of knowing that we are electing our future, and how we will live in it.
Choose the future you want.
(This article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or MAP. The author is the President and CEO of Health Solutions Corporation. Feedback at <email@example.com> and <firstname.lastname@example.org>. For previous articles, please visit <map.org.ph>).