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It's easy to join the cynical crowd

In today's cynical world, too many people think that their voice doesn't matter. That what they say or do won't make any difference. That everything has already been decided against them.

It's that kind of doomsday thinking that stops some people from even trying to make a difference.

Consider local government, for instance. A lot of people skip the meetings, don't keep up with what their locally elected officials are doing and would rather complain about something instead of getting involved.

It's easy to be part of that crowd. Here's all you have to do:

• Assume that all the local officials are personally out to get you, that they're part of a vast conspiracy to make your life difficult, rob you of any excess cash and prevent you from uncovering their plot.

• Jump into issues very late in the game. Make suggestions that have already been thoroughly studied and rejected. When that fact is pointed out to you, assume it's part of a cover-up (see above paragraph).

• Don't go to any meetings or take the time to make a phone call, write a letter or ask for time on an upcoming meeting's agenda. Assume that their minds are already made up and nothing you tell them will make any difference.

• Assume you're smarter than them, that you know the real truth because of something you heard or researched. Your own personal or second-hand experience makes you much more qualified than say an engineer, an architect or a hydrologist.

• Grumble a lot with your friends and neighbors about the terrible decisions that are being made. When they grumble too, agree with them -- even if you don't really know what they're talking about. That's a lot more fun than challenging their thinking.

• Don't believe what the media is reporting about this issue. They're in on it too.

On a more serious note, there are more effective ways to get involved in the issues and try to bring about change, such as:

• View local officials as ordinary folks who care about their community just as much as you do. Cut them a little slack (at least at first) -- there may be a perfectly logical or mandated reason for their decision.

• Realize that disagreements are natural and not always a sure sign of conspiracy or greed.

• Go to a meeting every now and then -- just to listen, catch up with the issues and get a feel for what it's like to be in their shoes.

• If something bothers you, don't just grumble to your buddies. Speak up! Write a letter, make a phone call, send an e-mail. Contact city hall, the school district, the county or other local entity and see if you can get some time on an agenda. Many local boards set aside time at the end of every meeting for public comment.

The bottom line: The people who run our cities, our schools, our townships, our county aren't the enemy some people assume. They're people who care about the community - so much so that they're willing to put their ideas in the spotlight for everyone to praise or pan. It's OK to disagree with their views but you should be willing to share a few of your own without the cynicism and distrust.