“ Institutions are what allow us to have continuity in civilizations.”

 ~ Kenneth Frazier

If society is like the house we live in, what makes up the timber in the walls?

While we are all going about our lives in the various rooms of our societal abode, doing things like making a living, getting educated, starting businesses, or having fun, a network of support systems and guard rails sits just beneath the surface, so ubiquitous that we take them for granted and tend to forget they are there.

In a well-functioning society, the joists, studs, and rafters that keep our world together have a bland and boring name: Institutions.

Much maligned and put-upon by trendy pundits as impediments to ‘freedom’ or onerous obstacles to be eliminated, these boring and often faceless organizations are the unsung heroes of our very existence.

Sure, it’s easy to complain about the IRS. The parking enforcement people don’t get much love. The healthcare system, especially here in the USA, receives much well earned criticism. But libraries are cool, the park service people do a heckuva job, and where would we be without education?

However flawed, annoying, and patience-testing that they may be, they slow things down and codify things in such a manner that allow the abundant western society that we all know and love to exist.

We forget or ignore the alternative at our peril. Visit any authoritarian kleptocracy. Sure, there are simulacra of institutions but they are governed by corruption rather than a rules-based order. Institutions established with the common good of citizens in mind serve to keep wealth and power in check.

Case in point: The EPA. Who does it benefit to have fresh air and clean water? Why would some prefer to drill and burn every last drop? They ask: “Why shouldn’t someone with enough wealth, power, and connections have the ‘freedom’ to despoil the earth in whatever way we choose, and to hell with the rest of you?

It may seem counterintuitive, but sticking up for and defending our institutions is one of the bedrock ways to support democracy. And most importantly, remember that institutions are made of people. You are one of them.

So next time you have to go to the DMV, (like I did today), take a deep breath and be thankful for the kind people behind the counter, even if they aren’t having the best of days. They’re your partners in the great dance of democracy, doing their part to hold our world together!


Mark Metz
Director of the Dance First Association
Publisher of Conscious Dancer Magazine

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