This country was founded by dreamers and visionaries, and the culmination of their efforts was the Constitution-a dream that became an inspiration to the world and, along with the Bill of Rights, empowered what that document called the "informed citizenry." But these days many people think that the country has drifted far from those early ideals, and that change is necessary. But what kind of change? Perhaps change that is practical and local and is inspired by debate because, after all, democracy is about debating our future together. So, we propose "What IF," an Idea Factory-a column-a catalyst-to help realize the democratic dream.We suggest that our system is broken and we have lost our way. What does that mean? Well, there's a lot of loneliness and alienation out there. Maybe it is because fear, cynicism, apathy, self-centeredness, and blaming others have trumped love, compassion, humility, and sharing prosperity and ideas. To make the system work again for honest, hard working people we must embody the informed citizenry our Founding Fathers dreamed about! This means reading!-especially newspapers, including the local papers like (for example) The Post Ledger. A newspaper is portable, recyclable, and adds no toxic batteries to the landfills. Then there's TV news. And Internet news. Ignorance got us into this dilemma and it is impossible to carry on a debate about our future with an ignorant person. It's true that too often the big issues aren't tackled because thinking is hard work and offers no instant gratification. But knowledge takes time, wisdom takes forever, and solutions come on the shoulders of the people who came before-from the street-corner philosophers to the ivory tower thinkers.

Meanwhile What IF we do some easy practical things that cost nothing, and make sense and change. Like listen as much as talk to each other; like being polite to those you serve and who serve you; like saying 'hi' to passersby; like not looking down your nose at people because they are not like you; like using "us" instead of "them" when describing problems and solutions; like holding the door and letting people merge in traffic; like cell phone manners in public. In other words, a basic return to civility in public. Because it's exciting how good actions become contagious.

This is the "What" of What if. In the future, this column will slice, dice and splice the many sides of a particular issue, its local ramifications, and hopefully suggest solutions. Coming soon: Public education.

And we end with some truths we hold to be self-evident: The personal is the political. Think globally (and regionally)-act locally. There are no problems, only solutions. Thanks for listening.

Tell us what you think at cthreea@earthlink.net. This column is an outgrowth of Idea Factory (IF), a new vision of Coatesville Area Arts Alliance, Inc-aka C3A, the nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization founded by the writers in 2002 that stages public events which integrate art and business and advance the arts as an economic tool for growth. www.cthreea.org

Kates and Layton are the co-founders of the Coatesville Area Arts Alliance and live in Wagontown.

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