Just as an example of informal but effective activism, I had an interesting conversation with my dentist a few days ago. I would classify him as a moderate Republican (definitely not a religious zealot) with a strong work ethic and a good American sense of life. He likes to think about issues and he takes ideas seriously, which makes him precisely the target audience I want to reach. Over the past year, he’s gladly read all of the health care policy articles I’ve sent him.
He told me that a few days ago he was working out at the gym, and the person next to him started talking about how health care should be a universal right and that everyone in America should be entitled to receive free medical care. My dentist said that he had just recently read Dr. Richard Parker’s OpEd on Senator Ted Kennedy and “universal” health care, so he got upset and expressed his disagreement politely but firmly, making a number of pretty good moral and practical arguments against “universal” health care. Other people at the gym started listening in, and after the discussion was over one of those random people said to my dentist, “You know, I had never really thought about some of those points before”.
My dentist recounted the story with a slight trace of embarrassment on his face, because he knew he got a little worked up over the issue at the time. (Knowing him, I’m sure he was firm, but not obnoxious or unpleasant).
I told him that he was right to stand up for what he believed in, and that it was good for him to speak his mind when he felt passionate about an issue like this. I told him that just as it is proper for him to be passionate about his work and his family, it is also proper to be passionate about his ideas and convictions. And I said that he did a good thing in speaking out, because you never know when the right person will hear the right idea at the right time.
I think that struck a nerve in him, because he gave me a big smile and said, “Yes, you’re right”. Then we settled down to business, and the rest of my dental appointment was totally uneventful.
Basically, I gave him explicit moral support for standing up for a good idea, and at some level he appreciated it.
This is something we can all do with very little effort — give our moral sanction to those who deserve it, even if they don’t necessarily realize how much they want or need it. Moral sanction is a crucial component of practicing the virtue of justice.
And you never know when you may be giving the right person the courage to do the right thing at the right moment.