Are we all lazy, or have we simply lost our sense of public duty?
Are we all shallow, celebrity factoid-consuming idiots?
Why are we more interested in going to the restaurant around the corner rather than taking part in local politics and decision-making? These are the things, after all, which can change our communities and lives on a day-to-day basis.
I can’t remember the last time I took part in a local town hall meeting, or disputed a planning permission request, or went to find out how to set up a pop-up cafe without infringing alcohol laws. I don’t think I’m lazy though. I wouldn’t know where to find any of this information to get involved.
David Meslin tackled this topic in his TED Talks speech in Toronto last year. He laid out seven cultural obstacles which we need to overcome in order to get involved in our local communities – seven obstacles which I believe could, and should, be applied to Germany, the world capital of bureaucracy.
During much of our lives we are influenced in our decisions on what products to buy, thanks to ubiquitous marketing. Why not apply such strategies to the publication of public notices? Simple, to-the-point and informational – as opposed to long-winded legal documents, with print so small it could make your eyes bleed. A restaurant would not seem so attractive to potential diners if it were to advertise itself in this way, so why should locals be forced to wade through yawn-inducing legalese in order to find out what’s going on their doorstep?
Angela Merkel, a while ago now, mentioned that multiculturalism in our society is failing – but I believe that this could in part be due to the fact that local government is not reaching out to those foreigners who don’t understand German and help to actively get them involved in their community, mixing with Germans and breaking down social barriers. A simple informational booklet available in a few key world languages would allow foreigners bemused by Germany’s complex bureaucratic system to get a foothold and stay legal. Furthermore, with ideas on how to get involved in the community.
Let’s face it though, we all could be doing more to get involved on a local level.
However, it’s as if governments aren’t adapting to what the public are responding to. People in their droves respond to advertising, and the government creates policy-related advert campaigns on a regular basis, but why not on the level of the community?
Our public spaces are dominated by advertising sold to the highest bidder – what about the messages of local importance? They are our public spaces after all, so why isn’t the advertising space allocated in them more democratised to inform people about what might be more relevant and important to them than the latest training shoe or pet food?
To put it in Meslin’s words: “If we can redefine apathy, not as some kind of internal syndrome, but as a complex web of social barriers that reinforce disengagement… and clearly define what those obstacles are, and if we can work together collectively to dismantle those obstacles, then anything is possible.”