Politics brings out the traits we most dislike about ourselves.
A recent UK poll revealng the extent to which politicians are reviled has sparked some holiday navel gazing.
An Independent article claimed that people dislike politiians because they are always acutely partisan.
An essay in the Dec 2013 political quarterly argued that the way politicians behave turns people off. The irony is that what seems clever and necessary to them, like point scoring, fence sitting, selective use of facts, and photo opps, is precisely the activity that loses them voter support.
This amounts to a somewht naive call for niceness, or in the words of one pundit, “political civility”.
The issue should be of more concern for politicians because they ought to want to be in a noble and respected career. And because somehere in the solution are lessons for how to win at politics.
The discussion has again flushed out concern for the professionalisation of politics. Those who take up the career find it being conducted in a cynical fashion, but don’t have enough experience or other skills to play the game differently.
This is true, but the source of the awkwardness lies in the humanity of politicians.
The political sphere is a kind of acid wash, flushing away the softer parts of our natures, leaving behind only the most stubborn of human traits.
We are all self-justifiying, self-righteous, and prone to criticism of others. We all tend to agree with information that fits our beleifs, and hang with people who agree with us. But in normal life these are balanced by family, friends and colleagues – just enough so we appear reasonable to others.
In politics there is little balance. For your ego to survive it must build itself up and cut others down. That can create a personna that is unreasonable and unattractive.
There’s a growing school of pyschological thought that over half of what we are is defined by other people. The actions of politicians are reinforced by the company they keep; even their foes, staff, pundits and media.
I felt recent leaders of the NZ Labour Party were doomed not to survive because their reference points and advice came from people trapped within the same inauthentic and separated political world.
Politics accentuates the less attractive features of the human psyche. Yet, there are few other careers in which your success depends so much on being liked, or on being persuasive.
The secret to civility in politics is balance; to gain perspective on oneself, one’s job, one’s ideology, and what society and a nation needs, and doesn’t need. The solution is to break from the destructive political environment. The solution is simply to get out more often.