Sometimes I think that the majority of people on this planet don't trust their governments. This lack of trust may show up in sporadic mass demonstrations and violence. Or it might be seen in voracious greed among those at the top and a feeling of helplessness at the bottom. On the positive side, though, developed nations are helping poorer countries in their efforts to establish democratic institutions. Given the challenges they face, however, without some kind of spirituality to support idealism, it's all too easy for the people involved to become discouraged.
One of the current ideas in political economy is that to achieve good governance, democratic institutions—such as an independent judiciary, a free press, and civic associations—need to be strengthened. This works well in countries where democracy has gained some measure of acceptance. But it seems far too idealistic for places where those institutions have never existed, or where the general populace has no confidence in their integrity. A glance at the headlines on governance crises in Haiti, Venezuela, Ivory Coast, or Liberia shows that. So do many dispatches from Iraq. How do you build a democratic structure when there is neither a history of it nor public confidence in what it's meant to do?
It seems clear that good governance, however it's expressed locally, needs to start at the individual level, with the ideals that the individual lives by. But when faced with the prospect of several billion individuals, all of whom may have different concepts of what's acceptable and what's not, it can be easy for cynicism to take over. "It's hopeless," those living in comfortable democracies may find themselves thinking. "Those people will never have peace, stability, and economic prosperity." And, they might add, it's too big a problem to do anything about. Yet I've found that prayer can be practical and effective way to help support good governance.