Can We Separate the Message From the Messenger?
During the US election, my newsfeed (and I'm sure yours, too!) was full of political conversations.
One in particular stood out—a close friend posted on Facebook that he was having a hard time reconciling that someone he respected had voted for Trump. He himself is not a Trump supporter and he found himself questioning whether that difference in political opinion reflected a fundamental difference in their characters…
…how was it possible that a man he so admired had made a decision he so disagreed with? And what did it mean?
Rather than debate the results or the rights and wrongs of each person, there's one aspect I want to reflect on...
It Got Me Thinking...
I'm British and in June 2016 we had our own unexpected vote to leave the EU.
Unexpected because the result had not been predicted. The campaigns (on both sides) had been much more dirty than a usual political campaign, and the leaders of the 'out' campaign particularly so with their platform of anti-immigrant rhetoric and worse.
Surely 'sensible' people weren't going to vote for them??
And, yet, they struck a nerve with the electorate.
A nerve of wanting more control of our own destiny, a sense of suffering from the economic downturn, of an over-crowded country, with public services that do not meet their needs, where they have been forgotten by the political elite...
People voted on issues, not on personality.
People, like my friend, who voted leave, thinking that he was voting for his dream of an independent Scotland.
People like my colleague who voted to disentangle the complexities of our regulatory framework.
Despite, Not Because…
And so the 'out' campaign was won: a win despite the people who led it, not because of them. Which appears to be at least part of what happened in the US in 2016.
Maybe there are those who think that Trump is a good man, and who condone his views on minorities and women. Call me optimistic, but I don't believe the majority of voters think that, and I am sure he won despite those statements, not because of them.
But what does it say about the choices that are put in front of us that we have to pick on policies and close our eyes to the kind of person we are voting for? Where is integrity? And, when it goes missing, which matters most: the person or the policy?
Those recent votes showed support, not for the messenger but for the message. They became a statement of dissatisfaction, a plea for change, an expression of the hopelessness of disenfranchisement—people ignored and feeling it.
When it comes to elections, we often don't have the choice of candidates—the pre-selection has been done and we have to make a choice—or choose to opt-out—something I think should be a last resort. Suffrage (especially for women) was hard-won and I will not throw it away. It's a right, an honour and also a responsibility.
But, shouldn't we expect—even demand—more from our candidates?
I’ve Seen Integrity First-Hand
I don't have an answer, but I've worked with politicians—many, many politicians and political advisers over many decades.
I've worked at the highest level of government in the UK and Europe.
I was in South Africa when Nelson Mandela was elected president. I've lived in countries where presidents decide that two terms is not enough and change the law to 'elect' themselves for life.
I've seen first-hand the results—good and bad—of personality in politics. I know that a bad leader can preside over good policy, and that even the greatest leader makes mistakes.
I know the devastation that can be wreaked with unfettered power.
And I've also seen integrity, honesty, and deep love from politicians. The impact of small, caring, gentle, daily decisions—which is often where the truly great show who they are.
I've seen it in politics, and I see it in my work every day. Indeed, in my profession, it's all about the person—how otherwise do we create a deep connection, one person to another?
Whichever way you voted in those elections, whichever way you might have voted, or might yet vote in an upcoming election, I believe we have a right to demand better.
We have a right to elect people who show integrity both as the messenger and in their message.
If you don't see that integrity in the people around you, the people you see in politics, or taking positions of leadership, then maybe, just maybe, it's time to step up and find a way to become the role model you want to see, become the leader you want to be led by, the politician you want to represent you.
Integrity is within all of us, we just have to be open to seeing it. And then acting from it.
Even if you, personally, choose never to run for office.