Friday, December 2, 2011

Taking Care of our Politicians

Driving to Delaware for the family Thanksgiving we stopped for lunch. "My name is Christy and I will be taking care of you," announces the bright young woman who hands us a menu. And she really seems to mean it.

Later we stop at Kmart for supplies. We remark to one of the staff that the store has advertised that it will be open 24 hours a day over the holiday to get a jump on 'Black Friday' and we hope she will have time to enjoy some turkey. She replies cheerfully, "I will be doing the labeling on the first shift so I'll be off by 6am!"

One of the things that constantly surprises and impresses me is the genuine cheerfulness and spirit of service shown by so many Americans who work long hours for minimal pay. All across this country people do what needs to be done to take care of their families. And after a full day’s work many are taking care of their neighbors and their neighborhoods. This is the real world beyond the gridlock of Capitol Hill where politicians seem to inhabit a different universe.

But politicians are human too. Most enter public service with high ideals and often at considerable cost to themselves and their families. We elect them (if we bother to vote at all) and then expect them to become models of perfection, willing to have every aspect of their lives scrutinized by the media. They work under intolerable pressure. We rarely interact with them except to register a complaint or to advocate for some policy or legislation.   

At the recent Trust Factor forum in Washington, Mee Moua, a former state senator from Minnesota, urged her audience to "create authentic relationships with our civic and elected leaders, instead of transactional relationships where we only contact them when we need something.”

So, instead of just lobbying or vilifying politicians we might try a different approach. What if more of us were to offer them real friendship, perhaps invite them to an informal meal or cup of coffee with neighbors in our homes? We might start a conversation by saying: "We appreciate your willingness to serve our community. We are not here to debate politics. We have no agenda except to understand how we can help you do your best work. Please share with us what concerns you most at this time.” We might reach out even to those whose political views are different from our own.

Sure, it sounds simplistic and yes of course there are self-serving office holders. But our leaders are more likely to show political courage and take risks for the common good if they are surrounded by networks of selfless citizens who encourage them, speak honestly, and provide moral support. I choose to believe that if more of us took care of our politicians we might begin to change the political climate in Washington.

1 comment:

  1. Rob, Thank you for this entry. It is so important for us to remember that politicians are humans, as are all other members of subsets of the population that we frequently like to dehumanize (prisoners, people with disabilities, people with whom we disagree, etc.). It is also important to recognize that a person's occupation makes up only part of her identity (which is even more true when that job is only part-time!). I really like your suggestion of inviting local politicians to share a meal with community members, and without having an agenda. Anyway, keep up the great work. Best,