Complaining seems like an easy way to connect with people, and when it comes to politicians, we seem to have a lot to complain about.
Politicians seem to earn their bad reputation. They flip-flop on issues. They say mean, offensive, and downright idiotic things. They make promises and then go back on them. Sometimes they cheat or outright lie when confronted. They have affairs. They lie before Congress.
But has it ever occurred to us to ask why politicians are like this in the first place?
I think it begins by recognizing that if our leaders are chosen by us, they are a reflection of our values.
I would even go so far as to say that politicians are created by us and therefore are created in our own image. Creations always have to share something with their creators.
The next time we’re tempted to point at how bad they are, let’s first pause and look inward. If they’re such poor leaders, why is it that we keep voting them into office?
I also wonder if we would get better leadership if we allowed them to be a little more human?
Politicians are under constant pressure. Think about how difficult it would be to please an entire group of people. Even if it’s just a small town, it can be nearly impossible. As John Lydgate wrote:
“You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”
If it’s difficult to please a small group of people, think how exponentially difficult that becomes when you’re a presidential candidate trying to please 300 million Americans, half of whom see you as an existential threat.
How hard would it be to have every single thing you said and did recorded and scrutinized? Personally, I say a lot of stupid and offensive things, but people have grace for me. If everything I said was recorded and cut down into clips, I can imagine how easy it would be to paint me as a bad person. What would it be like to have everything you do be broadcast to the entire world?
Many politicians inevitably break promises. I’m sure they make some promises that they can’t keep and other promises they end up compromising on for the more important issues. Here again, the public doesn’t allow politicians to be human. I often change my mind. As I get to know people and hear their stories, my views become more nuanced. Politicians, on the other hand, aren’t allowed to change their minds – not even if they get more information on an issue or if an opponent makes a valid point. They just have to sit back and stick to their guns.
What if it doesn’t have to be this way? What if we could treat our politicians like we treat our friends or family?
Here are some practical things I think we can do:
- Assume the best about the people we disagree with. Try giving them the benefit of the doubt. If we hear that they said something that seems crazy, let our default be to assume that it was taken out of context.
- If we hear or see something that is just blatantly wrong or against what we believe, let’s try or just have some grace. Remember, we don’t have to vote for someone to have grace for them.
- Honor them. I read the Bible sometimes and there’s this passage that talks about how Christians should honor everyone, even really bad Roman emperors (1 Peter 2:17). How can we treat politicians better than we think they deserve?
- Remember that it’s really easy to make good men look bad. We all have dirt. We all say and do stupid things. Political campaigns are experts at exploiting phrases or actions, even though they don’t reflect the whole person.
- Be slow to judge and form opinions about people you don’t actually know.
Every time politics is brought up in a conversation, we are faced with an opportunity. We can talk bad about them and complain, or we can choose to love them and spread hope.
What will you do?