The Nature of Politics

I’ve been thinking lately about politics.

Of course, I’m fed up with ’em, as in Democrats, Republicans, Independents — whatever the flavor of the day may be. I think somewhere between the penning of the Constitution and the modern world, we lost sight of working for the common good and instead began working for (a) our own good, (b) someone else’s good (and by that I mean someone with deep pockets and even deeper influence), or (c) our state (or county or township or district) back home. When did the United States become so un-united? But I digress.

Specifically, I’ve been thinking about politics in the office. It’s nasty business because, like those politicians who work their own agendas rather than working for the common good of the larger body — namely the country — office politicians do no better. In fact, they impede progress through their machinations. Oddly enough, many of these office politicians are really pretty good people who, for one reason or another, didn’t originally set out to play the office politics game. Some don’t even realize they play, I’m sure. But it happens.

From my coaching perch, I get curious about politics. What do we gain by having an agenda to the exclusion of others’ ideas? At what point do we decide that our ideas are superior to the ideas of others? Most importantly (and politics in the larger sense bears this out) when did it become so “yesterday” to collaborate for the greater good?

Debate is healthy; it breeds wonderful ideas when correctly approached and respectfully valued. Opposite opinions and out-of-the-box thinking promote innovation. My-way-or-the-highway thinking does little more than fuel antagonism, ensure blinders are in place, and demoralize everyone around you.

Mark Twain, ever the sharp-tongued critic, penned a wonderful little book you can read in less than 15 minutes. It’s called The War Prayer. In it, he tells of a community caught up in the throes of patriotism as it sends its young men off to war in far-off lands. They are fighting on the right side. They are heroes. They wish for them a speedy victory, and safety in battle, and might and strength. So the community gathers at a local church to offer a collective prayer for the safety of these young men, for success in battle and in all their endeavors.

In bursts an odd person (I bet he’d be an out-of-the-box thinker), who asks them if they’re sure they want this prayer to be answered. And he goes on to show them just what they’ve truly asked for, which is nothing like what they want. It’s the unspoken part of the prayer. Check it out; it’s a very thoughtful read.

It’s the old adage, “beware of what you wish for; you might get it.” Because every prayer, every wish has an alternate side to it. We can see this in action everywhere we turn. We see it in Bruce Almighty, when Jim Carrey learns the hard way that indiscriminate use of power leads to chaos. At least he learns the lesson.

The common good means Republicans don’t get to decide the rules. Nor do Democrats or Independents. Likewise, the common good for a company means one boss doesn’t get to ramrod his or her agenda through. No, the common good means that those who serve as our representatives — whether they’re elected or whether they’re our managers — seek to ensure the rules work for everyone and the agendas look at the present, the past, and the future in a way that ties them together intelligently.

If we all learned the lessons Mark Twain so eloquently laid out and that were driven home to Jim Carrey, maybe we’d be quicker to collaborate, to consider others’ ideas, and to not be so rigid as to think our way is the only way.

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