This is part 3 of MNI Alive's series: Self Praise Is No Recommendation:
If all politicians were required to demonstrate their track record in empathic behaviours, dialoguing with a difference and proving their skillful allegiance to the whole, we would change politics forever. No profession that offers as much power asks as little in entry qualifications as politics. Anyone with a big ego and a narrow agenda can run.
Let's change the game and call in those with real skillfulness to be the instruments of social transformation our times so desperately need.
There are plenty of politicians who genuinely desire to serve their communities and nations with humility and integrity, dedicating their lives to the cultivation of a wisdom that will benefit society at large; sadly, they are in a minority.
Mostly, the perception of those who crowd public office is that they are divisive, immature, and generally egotistical and opinionated. On the less destructive side of the scale, our politicians tend to be caught in corrosive partisan games and dedicated to exaggerating the failings of others. Caught up in a web of narrowly designed agendas, they are seen to be graphically ineffective in responding to the complex needs of evolving societies. They often wear their ideological rigidity as a badge of honour and increasingly it is deemed a necessary pre-qualification for party selection.
On the more destructive side of the scale, they are demeaning of anything that isn't aligned with their own interests, proudly intolerant or shamelessly bigoted, prone to media-grabbing rants and unapologetic about the fact that they treat those who do not hold their ideological views as enemies of the good. And as we know they pursue, collaborate and conspire with money as the decisive instrument to gain power and wield power. This does not cover the small number of politicians who are either pathological liars, deeply corrupt, instigate hatred or who will stop at nothing to remain in power.
It is evident that politics has become a degraded profession.
It is time we require our politicians to qualify for public service in ways that effectively serve the cause of safe, healthy, equitable and diverse societies existing in an interdependent world and shared ecosphere. The following are qualifications that I deem essential.
Without empathy there is no way forward for civilization. Individuals who lack empathy are trapped in selfish motivations and ego fixations: they have not learned how to see themselves in the predicament of others. Politicians who lack empathy relate to others through a primitive in-group inclusion or out-group exclusion. "You are either with us or against us."
In the absence of empathy the politics of adult tantrum dominates public life and presenting yourself as exclusively right is thought to be the only safe political strategy. Politicians who lack emotional intelligence feed societal division and breed intolerance.
Empathy can be acquired by those who do not have it. It requires learning how to be open and respectful to other viewpoints: it asks us to learn how to open both our hearts and our minds so that we can experience others truthfully and accurately. Empathy is not about feeling sorry for others; it is about understanding them by being able to vividly imagine yourself in their shoes. If someone wants to serve in public office, a minimum qualification should be this ability to put yourself in the shoes of others and by so doing become a larger person.
Dialogue requires mature communication skills that are not evidenced by those who only have the skills to talk at people, preach, cajole, rant or engage in any number of types of verbose and patronizing monologue. Some claim this is the way we debate in a free society but that is not so. There is most definitely a place in political life for debate but even debate has been reduced to a toxic form of mutual accusation and mudslinging rather than skillful exchange of ideas. Debate should serve to clarify the merit of ideas and not be used to camouflage positions or create endless diversions from the questions at hand.
Dialogue is founded on respect and there can be no democracy without respect. When we engage in dialogue we listen, we understand and learn how to appreciate both differences and common ground.
I conclude by saying that we should be able to demand that our politicians have honesty, integrity and humility. But these elements are difficult to immediately assess because they are the foundation of character and not acquired skills.
Editor-in-Chief's Note: The above piece was posted as a comment under an article here on MNI Alive. Our editorial team found it fitting and insightful to share with our global readership. Thanks to that commentator for sharing their insights.
Photo Credit To The Chronicle