All of us say untrue things under pressure, but politicians can’t succumb to the same trait.
This weekend my 11 year-old son made an off-the-cuff rude comment about a topical issue. Challenged by his twin brother he held to his knee-jerk viewpoint even when the position became untenable.
I was fascinated. It happens to each of us from time to time. When caught in a small lie, false claim, or emotionally-driven statement our first instinct is to defend ourselves. We defend and deny even though we know right at the back of our minds that we’re wrong, or that it doesn’t matter enough to win.
The much easier position, which our ego usually prevents until its too late, is to surface that doubt right at the start. We could say, “You’re right. I said that without thinking.” Or we could say “Is that so? Tell me more”. We could even say; “Sorry. I’m wrong.”
Pow! Do it early and the issue is cleared and you lose nothing. No face lost. No power lost. In fact, others can perceive you to be a better person for having the capability and generosity of spirit to concede you are wrong or were silly.
We are prevented from this simple solution by our ego. It cannot countenance us being wrong. The ego builds up an image of ourselves being right on everything. We could not function if we were uncertain that our choices, our lifestyle, were ‘right’. We are challenged about this everyday – because so many other people clearly live differently to us. Our subconscious defenses are therefore always in action. The ego, when challenged, is on its toes and ready to go, before good sense.
So politicians need to be pretty damn clever. From the start they have tough egos. The fight for power hardens the ego further. Then public life throws up a thousand different occasions when politicians take arguments too far.
Politicians cannot afford to be ordinary mortals in these situations. Most of us don’t bother to clash over, or uncover, small lies or stupid statements of our friends and colleague. In politics there’s a whole industry of people ready to investigate every comment you make, and a whole society ready to use you for some entertainment.
The solution is not to make the lies in the first place. You do that by approaching your work in a more ‘zen-like’ manner; not being so obsessed with winning. Winning comes through calmness.
That’s an ideal of course. We’re all human. We’ll push matters too far. So politicians need to adopt a new approach to their profession: the ‘helicopter’ technique. It is based on hovering above the inconsequential. It allows you to be upfront and carefree.
When you’re caught out, take a long deep breath. That gives rationality time to overtake emotion. Listen to your conscience, and act on it.
If your conscience is not telling you anything, you need to recognise issues that don’t matter. Professing you are wrong or have over-stepped the mark is start of your power, not the end of it.
Most matters are not issues of courage or moral fortitude. Only make your stand when the issues are fundamental to your ideology and philosophy (and not simply about point scoring).