THE AISLE – A CAUTIONARY TALE

Say you wanted to build a building in Washington, D.C. You want this building to reflect the abilities of all Americans, and be a monument to the resources of the entire country, but you are a modest person, and you want to keep the size and grandeur of the building somewhat under control. You decide that the best way to construct this edifice is to have two teams, who will compete with each other to see which team can set up the most blocks. You want the competition to be as fair as possible, so you decide to draw the players from all of the citizens of the U.S. The eligibility of the players will be based on the number of states, the various populations of those states, the age of players, and certain other factors. The number of players on each team are to be re-apportioned every two years and most every player’s contract comes up for renewal at that time as well. The players will be allowed to confer with the citizens of their home states and their team members on strategy, and may even collaborate with their opponents in order to make your proposed structure the best it could possibly be.

While the players will spend some time in their respective states, gathering information about the best way to construct your building, they will perform most of their work in D.C. You want to keep the teams competitive, and don’t want the members of each team getting too chummy with the other team, so you assign seating for each player, with a dividing line between the two teams. You call this line the “aisle”. It is a virtual line, reforming with each reapportionment, but it serves the purpose of isolating the two teams from each other. Players only rarely “cross the aisle”, and when they do, they scurry back to comfort of their own side as soon as their business is complete.

Each team is responsible for erecting its own part of the structure. In order to increase the competitive level, you keep constant score. Each block is carefully weighed, assessed, and rated before it is installed, and the results of the assay are published on a daily basis. You’re not completely sure how you want the finished product to look, so you continually ask all citizens their opinions of each block and the way they are going together, and give that information to the players. Occasionally, citizen opinion is so unfavorable, you actually tear some of the blocks back out, but for the most part, the building continues to grow.

In fact, you’ve recently been amazed at the rate of growth—the building seems to be spurting towards the sky. But it’s also stretching along the ground, and even has some tendrils that reach below the surface. You realize that some of the players who had previously retired are trotting around importantly, acting as consultants for the project. The whole construction site resembles an ant hill, as players, accompanied by their helpers, followed by the consultants, with cadres of people you don’t even recognize chasing along after, swarm all over, seemingly with no particular purpose in mind.

As you gaze upon the monstrosity your creation has become, you are not sure that you even like the whole idea any more. What started as a friendly competition seems to have blossomed out of control, with each team more interested in the number of blocks their side has installed, rather than the quality of the structure as a whole. And the name-calling!

What had been a friendly rivalry has deteriorated into a shouting match. Each team has become more concerned about criticizing their opponents’ blocks than in erecting their own. They each complain that the other is trying to outdo them in the size and decoration of the bricks, and that the blocks the other side installs don’t fit the blocks their side has installed. Each side is deriding the quality of the other’s blocks, and threatens to tear out what the other has already been installed in favor of their own blocks. You’re not sure where to go from here…

But imagine that, instead of dividing your players into two teams, divided by an aisle, you sorted them into groups by constituency. You allow them to freely collaborate, and you specifically forbid name-calling and demonizing of the other side. You nestle the smaller teams cozily in the middle of the collection of teams, and surround them protectively with the larger teams. You place dissimilar teams next to each other, so that they can discover shared interests and common ground. You remind all players that they share the goal of creating the best edifice possible. You reiterate that the best edifice is not necessarily the biggest, or the gaudiest, but the one that best performs the intended function of reflecting the values of all American citizens.

You realize that 300 million Americans have a conglomeration of 300 million opinions, some of which change on a daily basis. You caution your players that they have a responsibility to construct their own set of principles prior to engaging in play and relay them to the people whom they wish to represent so the the citizenry can make an informed decision about who to send to D.C. to erect their edifice. Your players are not to rely on the will-o’-the-wisp passions that float by, engage the emotions, then drift past with nary a trace.

You stress that this edifice is to reflect all citizens so when each player has accomplished his/her personal agenda, that player is to finish out his term, then return home, leaving a space for a new player, with new ideas and a fresh perspective. Erecting this edifice is a service to the country and its citizens, not a career for the players. You partner the new players with more experienced players from another constituency and with a different philosophical bent on the purpose and use of the edifice. You schedule brainstorming sessions on a regular basis. You want this project to remain a competition, but a competition focused on the best final product, not individual aggrandizement.

You remind all players that this building is meant to be a beacon for both Americans and all citizens of the world, and that you do expect it to be finished at some point, with only minor tweaking and upkeep to be performed in the future. At that point, the players won’t have to spend so much time in D.C.; they can remain at home, in the midst of their communities, and only occasionally come to marvel at the magnificent structure they’ve created.

Well, everyone needs a pipe dream….

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2 responses to “THE AISLE – A CAUTIONARY TALE

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