Government and Goldilocks

We’re trying to find that “just right” balance.

Most of you know the fairytale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Goldilocks was a fussy little girl who broke into the house of the Three Bears (Papa, Mama and Baby Bear) who were not at home. She first tasted their porridge. One was too hot, the other too cold and the third, Baby Bear’s, was “just right.” She went through the same process in finding a comfortable bed to sleep in: “Not too hard, not too soft, but just right.”

From this fairytale comes the concept of balance that has been a part of western culture for centuries. This concept has been applied to the existence of life as we know it today. Scientists have discovered that if the earth were positioned closer or farther away from the sun, life as we know it would not exist. The gravitational pull of Jupiter and Saturn have protected us from asteroids, which would otherwise batter our planet. These and other improbabilities put life on earth in the Goldilocks Zone – just right.

When the framers of the Constitution met in Philadelphia in the spring and summer of 1787, they were looking for their own Goldilocks Zone of good government. They had suffered under the tyranny of the British and fought a bloody eight-year war against them.

During that war they cobbled together a government which they called the Articles of Confederation. While that first constitution enabled the American government to defeat the British Empire, power was concentrated in the states, not the national government; it was helpless to keep the peace between the states or pay their soldiers in money that had any value.

The government also had no power to stop or interfere with the rise of anarchy in western Massachusetts when irate farmers rebelled. They were fearful of losing their farms and being thrown into debtors’ prisons. They rightfully blamed the selfish and self-centered merchants in Boston who controlled the state government. Shays’ Rebellion was barely defeated, and then only with the use of mercenaries hired by those wealthy Bostonian merchants.

Americans had seen their government go from British tyranny to Shays’ anarchy in a short 10-year period. The framers were trying to create a central government that had enough power to protect the nation from foreign powers and internal rebellions while at the same time protecting life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It was not an easy task.

They accomplished their task when they created the Constitution by dividing power between three branches: legislative, executive and judicial. This is called the separation of powers. They also used checks and balances to give the other two branches power to keep a lid on a branch that got out of control.

The current movement toward impeachment and the resistance of the president is an example of those checks and balances.

In any presidential impeachment trial, the Supreme Court chief justice acts as the judge, while the House of Representatives acts as prosecutor and the Senate as the jury, where two-thirds of them must convict the president before he can be removed from office.

The reason the Constitution has functioned so well for 230 years is that it is based upon the same Goldilocks principle that allows for life to exist on the earth: everything had to be “just right.”

King Solomon advised the Israelites to “avoid extremes.” Aristotle advised humans to find the “golden mean.” Buddha sought the “middle way” and Daoists of China created yin and yang.

That same principle is the key to one’s own happiness and contentment. We all need to seek to enter the “Goldilocks’ Zone.”


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