There are so many things in the world that need fixing, don't you think? More people need health insurance - but not from my money! Refugees need space and facilities in order to live halfway decently - but not in my backyard! Religious groups have the right to open their centers wherever they want - but not in my neighborhood!
It's a common public phenomenon - NIMBY, Not In My Backyard. It's a hurdle for many reforms: people opposing reasonable reforms because they don't want to have to deal with the consequences or pay the price. We don't want to pay higher taxes in order to cover a national reform that benefits a large number of people. We don't want certain groups of people in our neighborhoods (might bring property values down!). We do want to help, but preferably without having to do something about it. It's rather understandable - after all, we have our own interests to look after. If we don't, who will?
Unfortunately, that's not how progress works. Reform works only if people figure out common ground and find compromises about what they want and do. Deliberation is a mechanism to help with that. Simone Chambers, a veritable deliberation theorist, says that a "deliberative model involves citizens at every stage of policy formation, including research and discovery stages. Thus, a deliberative model offers a way to overcome NIMBY by getting citizens to cooperatively solve policy dilemmas rather than simply vote on policy options. Furthermore, within the public process of deliberation, many NIMBY-type arguments are difficult to justify."
The trick about deliberation is that not only do we have to defend our own position with reasonable arguments, we also have to listen to other people's opinions and their reasonable arguments. We might learn something new, or we might learn to better appreciate someone else's viewpoint - in any case it will be hard for us to insist on our own advantage while telling others to buzz off. Especially in local contexts, this might be an effective approach to developing policy that is supported by a majority and would even benefit a majority. Or those who really need it.
Picture: Flickr user smif