I had to do a little blurb for church last Sunday, and after I did it, I kept thinking about the topic I'd chosen - polarization. I ended up writing this article...
Polarization, Politics, and People
“Taxes would be lower if you voted for us.” “We won’t destroy the surplus like the other party would.” “We’re not corrupt like the other party.” “They’re making empty promises – we’re not.”
We’ve heard all the rhetoric. It’s the same every time there’s an election. We’re good – they’re bad. They’ll destroy the country – we’ll build it up. We’ll look after you – they’ll let you fumble through life alone and abandoned. Blah, blah, blah, blah.
Here’s what I hate about election time – all these campaigns, the debates, the speeches, the brochures, the websites, the townhalls – they all promote one thing. Polarization. Almost every word out of the campaigners’ mouths is an attempt to distance their own political party from the other political parties. The golden rule of every campaigner is “at all costs, find a way to stand out above the crowd.” Take no prisoners, leave no stone unturned, don’t worry about who you offend along the way – just get it done and come out on top. In this campaign, it seems especially nasty, because parties are not only distancing themselves from each other, they’re also making a point of distancing themselves from the former leadership of their own parties.
It’s not just campaign time either (although that’s when it’s most accentuated). Watch the House of Commons in session some time and you’ll see it there too – the name-calling, the blame games, the nasty passive-aggressive (or downright aggressive) attempts to besmirch their opponents. And, to some degree, we as the Canadian public get on board and polarize ourselves against our neighbours and friends too, simply because we vote for a different party.
What I’d like to know is… isn’t there a better way to run this country? Do we have to build our country on polarization? Shouldn’t Canada’s international reputation as polite peacemakers reflect our government as well? Do governments HAVE to resort to oppositional tactics to accomplish anything good in this country?
Recently, I read an article in Time Magazine that gave me some glimmer of hope that, at least for some things, polarization doesn’t need to be the order of the day. In the article, it tells of how Former President George Bush (senior) and Former President Clinton are working together to mobilize the American public toward a charitable response to last year’s tsunami and hurricane Katrina. An interesting thing happened along the way – the two presidents, on opposite sides of the political arena, actually discovered they LIKED each other and a friendship developed. They dine together occasionally (even when the media cameras aren’t following them), and they take boat rides on Former President Bush’s speed boat. The photos connected to the article show a congenial pair, each of them reaching out at some point in the conversation to pat the other one’s knee.
Another interesting thing started happening – the American public started to respond to their requests, not because of the power of persuasion of the two former politicians, but because there was something about the collaborative effort and the resulting friendship that appealed to people. If it’s possible for two political opponents, who campaigned against each other, to work together and become friends, than there’s still something good about the world. Yes, it’s entirely possible that the whole thing is a well-crafted public relations scheme, but there’s a part of me that really wants to believe that relationships can bridge the gap between political opinions.
As a manager, I’ve done a fair bit of hiring to fill positions in various organizations. Every time I go through the hiring process, one of my top priorities is teamwork - the successful candidate must show an ability to work effectively in a team. Will you support your other team members? Do you contribute to group effort and collaboration? Do you build people up rather than tearing them down? Do you “play well in the sandbox”? Potential employees don’t have to share exactly the same opinion as the other members of the team (in fact, it’s often better if they don’t), but they DO need to figure out ways of working together.
On January 23, wouldn’t it be revolutionary if we could elect the party that shows the best efforts in collaboration, bridge-building, and teamwork? Wouldn’t it say something good about our country if our government was known for its ability to contribute to the strength of the country and to other countries by the principles of teamwork?
Oh, I like healthy debate and productive discourse as much as the next person. I like the sharing of ideas and the contribution of varying views. It’s an important part of the process of separating the “wheat from the chaff” – even in an effective team. But at the end of the day, when the debate has been completed, I want the players to be able to say “I may not agree fully with the conclusion, but I will support it for the good of my country”.
I suppose it wouldn’t make for very interesting campaign promises – “If you elect me, I promise to find ways to work with the opposition and the other members of my party to build the best country we can build” or “Vote for me and you vote for collaboration”. I suppose it’s a little watered down, but maybe it would promote a new brand of government – one that we could all believe in.
Maybe if we all approached this campaign as managers of our country, trying to hire the best employees for the job, we’d ask interview questions at the townhalls and debates that would help us determine which of our candidates “plays well with others”. I don’t know about you, but I’d welcome a government that didn’t resort to name calling and blame games. Let’s hear it for teamwork!