Democracy is a term too often misused and underestimated. First, let me be clear that I don’t believe democracy is limited in definition to an election process or a country’s constitution.
These are the foundation of democracy; yet alone, they will not ensure that democracy’s potential will be fully realized.
Whether it is at home, in school, or in a business, democracy is the belief that every person involved has a valuable opinion about decisions being made.
Thus, leaders, teachers, and business owners have as much of an obligation to seek and to value the opinions of their constituents, students, employees, and customers, as they themselves have a responsibility to identify issues and express themselves intelligently.
Learning to do so requires a cultural environment conducive to discussion, feedback and developing independent thinking.
In the home, democracy requires parents who discuss issues with children and ask them questions about their interests and opinions.
Stephen Covey, author of “8 Highly Effective Habits”, goes as far as creating a set of house rules and responsibilities, which all of his children and his wife collaborate with him to write (Principle-Centered Leadership).
The effect is that the children begin to see the value in rules. Without this process, kids often regard their parents as tyrants and sometimes break rules as an emotional response.
In schools, the educational culture must evolve to allow more interaction as well. Teachers must be able to conduct discussions in the classrooms to give students, at least, an opportunity to share their opinions.
The classroom is where students first develop the skills required to express themselves intelligently.
Maintaining a democratic culture in a business is both the most difficult and most critical process to success in a competitive environment; a culture which many companies in the west have only recently adopted.
Some companies in the US have begun doing 360 degree peer evaluation for their employee’s annual reviews. In this process, each employee is evaluated by his/her subordinates, colleagues, and managers.
When I first read about the Customer Service campaign that the government of Rwanda is conducting through the school system around the country, I was a bit skeptical.
But I then realized that our government had already realized the importance of investing in the people first.
If people could identify the problem with the service they were receiving, then they would become the best advocates to demand better service.
Again, democracy is a state of mind. The democratic way of thinking affects a person’s approach in every aspect of his/her life, from the home to the classroom to the workplace and finally to the election booth.
Additionally, let me state that democracy begins with a much more simple mandate of instituting “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”; however, for its potential to be fully realized there is a cultural revolution which must occur in the home, in the classroom, and in the office.
Mutoni Karasanyi is guest contributor living in Kigali