I’ve been lucky to have some extraordinary men as mentors. One of the first was an old gent named Alec Muir — an Immigrant from Scotland and an itinerant pastor. He taught me how to do more than read to understand; he taught me to think about what I was reading and to consider what wasn’t written! Learning to extrapolate from the known was one of the things that opened my eyes to the whole idea of unintended consequences.
He was old. I was very young. I’m sure that had something to do with why he has such a huge impact on me. At the time, not many people in my life were paying attention to little old me. I was “just a kid” and he was respected by all the adults. His turning attention to me felt better than hitting a home run.
I don’t care whether you are a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim or not a believer in God at all. I want to share an idea that came out of conversations with him a long time ago.
We were talking about walls. Actually, at the time, it was all about Bible stories. If you read the Old Testament you get the idea that in the earliest time people lived in tents (at least according to the Old Testament, I’m not getting into a discussion about evolution as it’s irrelevant to the story). He highlighted to me the idea that there came a point in time when men first began to build cities, to live in buildings, to build using walls.
A wall is a simple thing — at least those first ones were. No two by fours there. Stone upon stone, or brick upon brick, mud daubed straw, whatever the material there was one significant fact: walls are stronger than cloth.
But, when you live behind walls, you have invented the luxury of privacy: no one knows what you are doing.
Alec was a man of faith and for him the first builder of walls did a terrible thing because by “inventing” the novel idea of “privacy” he enabled an awful lot of evil in the world. Men and women could do whatever they wanted whether it was good for them, good for their family, good for their community, or good for the earth.
Just the fact that I remember the discussion some 50+ years later gives you an idea how powerfully it struck my consciousness. Today it’s not so much the actual walls that I find myself pondering. It’s the unintended result of introducing privacy, secrecy, into the world.
In recent weeks when we’ve heard, over and over, about new healthcare legislation being crafted away from the public eye I am struck once again by the way in which privacy and secrecy enable people to disadvantage others; to prey upon them; to weaken them without their even knowing they are in jeopardy.
If there is one thing I have taken away from the 2016 election it’s the hypocrisy of government. This isn’t about any one person or party. It’s about the corruptible nature of power. It’s about the way the rich want more riches and they are willing to take from the poor who have nothing — or nearly so. Time after time we have watched as promises made are reneged upon. All politicians use the media. One party has no monopoly on media manipulation.
But our government has become what it is in large part because of the accountability of politicians to the public because of openness — the absence of walls — the limitation of secret meetings and actions taken out of public sight. For decades we have been moving more and more towards limiting — in fact making illegal — close meetings. Open Meeting Laws are common nowadays. Just why the Senate thinks they should be above common practice amazes me and why there has not been more than token uproar about such practice is beyond me. But, I would be willing to say that people don’t shut themselves off from the world and do things in private unless they are afraid that their actions are counter to public opinion.
Why we allow such behavior is beyond me.