Empathy in our Politics

help wanted signI’m shocked but not at all surprised to see the way our politicians treat each other. My lack of surprise is simply because I watch the same thing happen around me every day. In short, we treat each other like shit, and then react in horror as our leadership does the same to each other.

In order to get our attention, political campaigns must spend the bulk of their time putting The Other Guy down. Describing to me the horror of an Other Government, and basically getting a buy-out of having to prove that their own merit and ability are worthy of my vote. We complain when our local candidates knock at our front door during dinner, and we don’t show up to local meetings because we’re too busy. We are never too busy to repost a damaging article, likely having not truly read it, and throwing a “politicians suck” label on top. When we do show up to rallies and debates, we boo when the other candidates are mentioned, we cheer when the there’s descriptions of retaliation, we consider ourselves of superior intellect and demonstrate such in our daily lives.

We spit at the notion that women should fill 50% of cabinet seats because “shouldn’t they just earn it?”, implying that female cabinet ministers are ditzes who gleefully accept the cookie of their high political appointment. Then once they do, we shame them for not wanting to put their kids to bed. It’s adorable when a male politician tells the House that he reads stories to his kids over Skype every night he’s in Ottawa. It’s tragic and heartbreaking “for those kids” when a woman says the same.

We are so afraid of each other that we cover it in anger because that feels more acceptable.

Our politicians are reflections of us. We hire them because they beat the other guy, and then we expect them to immediately be able to effectively work with the other guy. We treat each other with disdain and contempt, all the while wondering aloud why our leadership cannot rise above. There’s nothing for them to rise to. They’ve never seen it. They are us. They are who we’ve always asked them to be. They are who we ask ourselves to be. They don’t go to a special school between election and their first day in the House of Commons, to learn how to be more reservedly polite colleagues. They carry the weight of that election into the House, sit across from their “honourable colleagues” whom they’ve spent weeks criticizing and we expect them to then be able to get the job done in a fashion that suits us. All while we post bitter diatribes on Facebook and secretly unfollow anyone who doesn’t agree. THEY ARE US.

I’ve seen it in my own life. Unions go out on strike, spend weeks trying to turn the public tide against their employer, while their employer makes the public case that they’re simply managing greed. It’s a literal argument, alongside a psychological battle to win. Once the deal is done and everyone is back to work, we’re asked to collaborate. We’re expected to understand that the mess we dealt with before, which very much affected how we all felt about our jobs every day? It’s over now. We’re all fine here. Except for anyone who chose the right to walk across the line, you’ll have to pay. Probably in debts of your personal pride.

We shame others to deflect the shame we feel. We blame others for the failures we possess ourselves. Admitting we empathize with their shortcomings is akin to admitting we have shortcomings of our own, and that is exposure and exposure is terrifying. We do not invite empathy into our politics, and then we recoil when contempt is on display. We have no empathy in our parenting, in our workplaces, in our social lives, we don’t even have empathy with ourselves. We want to believe that politics leads, but the reality can be very different- politics reflects. They are us. And until we show up, until we display the kind of communication we want to see, our leadership will keep mirroring back to us what they see.

I so often repeat the line from the movie Remember The Titans that I feel as if I should tattoo it on my person somewhere: Attitude reflects leadership.

In this case? I believe we are the leaders. There are more of Us than there are of Politicians. Is it that what we say we want and what we actually want are so different? Where is the breakdown of communication between our expectations of our elected officials and their actions? And can you apply that breakdown to your own life, your own relationships, your own inner voice?

We need empathy in our politics: I see you, I understand your frustration, I will consider you. In order to get it into the House of Commons? It has to start in your own house.

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