Arthur McCaffrey

is a retired Harvard University psychologist

Democracy is not the private preserve of the exam-passing classes, and it is not a castle surrounded by a moat to keep the smellies out. It is not for snobs who believe they are one with the globe and can travel and relate to all those wonderful foreigners, who are so much more attractive than the peasants they have to live with back home. Democracy is certainly not a pretentious monarchy, since by definition the only head of state is elected by popular vote.

Democracy is not an oligarchy (in theory), an aristocracy (in theory), a plutocracy (in theory) - although it quickly becomes one of those elitist forms without the proper checks and balances, such as a proper, honorable opposition party, and a level playing field for all its participants.

Democracy is not a private club with a veneer of sociability ("We do give to the poor!") but very strict membership requirements. Democracy is not a private table, but a very large, diverse buffet, with strange odors and tastes. Democracy is not commitment-free; it requires you to tolerate your neighbors - not because they are persons of a different color, sex, race, or origin, but simply because they are fellow citizens engaged in a joint enterprise of respecting the individual while striving for the common good.

Democracy is not about rights, it is about responsibilities. Democracy is not about diversity as an intrinsic good, but it is about inclusion as a universal prerequisite for coexistence. Democracy is not monolithic; it has many flavors, many manifestations, that reflect its cultural determinants. So their democracy may work just as well as our democracy.

Democracy is not about me-me-me, but us-us-us. Democracy is not in-your-face individualism, but a daily exercise in treating others as you would have them treat you (so tone down your lifestyle because it may be jarring other neighbors' sensitivities).

Democracy is not self-righteous, it does not disparage others as "poor white trash" because they don't vote the same way you do. Democracy does not make a fetish out of difference, but rather seeks to understand what we value in common. Democracy is about shared principles, not personal preferences.

Democracy is not absorbed from the air you breathe; it requires institutions that visibly and, in practice, incorporate and demonstrate its values. It requires an educational system that constantly teaches its young about its benefits, its obligations, its history and evolution, and its alternatives. Democracy is not an avocation or a hobby - it requires study in comparative civics so that its citizens have an informed consent to its privileges.

Democracy is not an end point, but a process, a journey, an attitude, a way of looking at life, as a member of a community. Each individual can grow inside a democracy, and that growth both enhances and nurtures the growth of others, so that the whole democracy becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

But what, then, is democracy? In many ways, the best advocate for democracy is not Jefferson writing to the Constitutional Convention, but St. Paul speaking to the Corinthians. Because the best analogy, the best idealization for democracy, perhaps, is love.

Like love, democracy, ideally, is patient and kind; democracy is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Democracy does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.

Democracy bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.