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Change starts with you

"Only Government can fix the mess we are in," President Barack Obama has said.

"Government is the problem," Gwinnett Daily Post columnist Nate McCullough said in a recent column.

We speak of government as if it were our neighbor, pastor, teacher, friend or foe. It is none of these and yet it is all of these.

Government, at any level, is simply an organizational structure and is incapable of any action or activity until people are inserted into the equation. Our founding fathers meant it when they said "of the people, by the people and for the people"

So the problems and/or the solutions lie with us.

A couple of years ago, a man went to refinance his house. The mortgage person asked him how much he needed. He said $400,000. The banker said OK. No appraisal, no verification of employment, no verification of income. Just a cursory credit check and he was on his way with the money. Instead of red lights flashing and bells going off, he saw this transaction as a sign that he had truly made it. After all, he had just walked into a bank, asked for $400,000, and they gave it to him. He and millions like him caused the mortgage mess.

The trustees of a charity were looking for an investment manager. They found a firm on Wall Street that consistently outperformed all other firms by 50 percent or more. They invested their entire endowment and got monthly statements showing the endowment growing by leaps and bounds. Then one day it was all gone. They and millions like them caused the financial meltdown.

On the home front, our close encounter with "socialized" trash was caused by apathetic citizens who were rescued by a small business owner who found the courts his only alternative to bankruptcy. We could fill this entire newspaper for a month with other examples of citizen apathy permitting federal, state and local fiascos to occur and then allowing wasteful spending to correct the consequences.

You want change?

It is not enough to show up periodically and vote for change. Real change demands that citizens get involved. Now before you run out and try to boil the ocean, consider these 5 P's:

· Pick an area you are passionate about. This is going to be hard work and unless you are passionate this will turn into a New Year's resolution that fades away by the end of January.

· Remember to bring along your persistence. Bureaucracies resist change. Public hearings get announced in small ads buried in the legal sections of your newspapers. Your issue will be last on the agenda. Public officials will thank you for getting involved and then try to work around you.

· You will need a big helping of patience. We didn't get into this mess overnight and it will not get solved as fast as you would like.

· Don't make it personal. It's the problem that needs to be fixed not the person. It may be that person's behavior that is the problem and that is easily remedied next election cycle. Attack the problem - not the person.

· Always be positive. Complaining is only acceptable if it is accompanied by a proposed solution.

Our government organizations at all levels were always intended to be of the people, by the people and for the people. Like Margaret Mead said: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Patrick Malone of Snellville is the Senior Partner at The PAR Group, an international consulting and training firm, and co-author of "Cracking the Code to Leadership," a book helping businesses, organizations and individuals improve their business and personal results.