Good Government Starts in Our Marriages, Minds, and Communities

Good Government Starts in Our Marriages, Minds, and Communities
When a family regularly has dinner together and engages in good conversation, the children benefit from increased knowledge and understanding. (shapecharge/Getty)
The turn of the calendar is never complete unless it’s accompanied by a look back at the highs and lows of the preceding year, a job that various media outlets dutifully perform. Gallup is no exception. The popular polling firm recently released its list of issues that Americans considered the nation’s biggest problems in 2022. If you guessed that “government” earned the top spot, you’re absolutely correct.

The fact that government heads the list really isn’t that much of a surprise. Instead of allowing our Constitution to do its job and extend its freedoms to all citizens, Washington politicians continue to cave to special interests, promote the elites, and, in general, overlook the things that are important to average Americans, handily sweeping us out of the equation.

What’s surprising, however, is that the government has earned the top problem spot in seven of the past 10 years of Gallup polls, and in the years that it didn’t receive top billing, it was only a few steps behind in second place. If the government is such a problem—and such a widely recognized one at that—then why is it that this problem continues year after year? And why is nothing being done to solve it?

“If people do not have the government they want,” author Wendell Berry wrote in his book, “The Art of the Commonplace,” “then they will have a government that they must either change or endure.”
Unfortunately, in our present situation, it seems that Americans have decided that it’s far easier to endure our problematic government than to undergo the work of changing it. A couple reasons for this come to mind.

Breaking Out of Complacency

For starters, many of us are far too comfortable with life as we know it. To confront and attempt to change our problematic government would mean rocking the boat and perhaps even putting ourselves in the crosshairs of politicians, social and mainstream media, and now even institutions such as the FBI. So we become armchair umpires, critiquing the government from the comfort of our homes but never sticking our necks out and risking our names getting in the public eye.

Another reason is that we’re unwilling to look in the mirror and confront our own personal problems. Moral and character flaws are at the root of many of our national problems, Berry wrote, and the one who’s “willing to undertake the discipline and the difficulty of mending his own ways is worth more ... than a hundred who are insisting merely that the government and the industries mend their ways.”

Berry wrote that fixing a bad government doesn’t just come through political protests and lobbying of government leaders; it comes when we as individuals take the bull by the horns and rebuild locally, doing one small thing at a time to restore lost foundations:
“We are going to have to rebuild the substance and the integrity of private life in this country. We are going to have to gather up the fragments of knowledge and responsibility that we have parceled out to the bureaus and the corporations and the specialists, and we are going to have to put those fragments back together again in our own minds and in our families and households and neighborhoods. We need better government, no doubt about it. But we also need better minds, better friendships, better marriages, better communities. We need persons and households that do not have to wait upon organizations, but can make necessary changes in themselves, on their own.”
So how do we, the little folks, foster better minds, friendships, marriages, and communities that bring about the changes we need?

Those brave parents who have stood up in school board meetings across the country in the past few years and spoken out against the poor treatment and propaganda that passes for education these days are some who are advocating for better minds. Parents who take their children out of the public school system entirely are doing the same, raising the next generation to think differently and to strive after challenging material instead of simply learning to become a cog in the system. Even families who simply have dinner with one another regularly and engage in good conversations will increase the understanding and knowledge of their children.

But better minds don’t just come by fighting for a more well-rounded and high-quality education for our children. We, as adults, also need to strive for better minds ourselves. Setting aside time to read books—especially older ones—instead of more online headlines and social media feeds, is the first step. Interacting with a book’s text by writing questions in the margins, underlining important points, and then talking about what you read with others and applying those insights to our world today is another step.

Committed, stable families are the cornerstone of a thriving society. But these only come about when we first value marriage and reject the trendy hook-up and divorce culture. This marriage foundation is built upon when spouses make little, daily, and sometimes even monotonous sacrifices for the other. These include praying together, expressing daily gratitude for one another, spending time with each other, and eliminating relationship killers, such as pornography.

Finally, we can foster better friendships and communities by finding a good local church, attending faithfully, and supporting and encouraging the other congregants around us. We can give a friendly wave and smile to our neighbors, listen to their troubles, or lend a helping hand with snow shoveling or other chores that come with home maintenance. Even calling on them for help in our own need can be a way to build better communities, for as Berry wrote, there’s a “need to need one another.”

Will building better minds, marriages, and communities really improve our government and make it less of a thorn in the flesh of the American public? Nothing is a guarantee, of course, but it’s quite possible; when these foundational aspects of a good society are in place, everything else tends to fall in line. So if we’re unhappy with the way the government is working right now, why not get started cleaning it up right now ... by working to better the few basic things in our own power?

Annie Holmquist is a cultural commentator hailing from America's heartland who loves classic books, architecture, music, and values. Her writings can be found at Annie's Attic on Substack.