The impossibility of everything or the possibility of something

June 18, 2019

It has been said before that politicians campaign in poetry and govern in prose. First there is the soaring optimistic rhetoric of a great slogan or an impassioned speech, galvanising support and creating a sense of energy and momentum for change. Then follows the grinding gears of governing, with endless committees, consultations, objections, budgets and painful project management.

Latterly politicians have seemed to resort to graffiti rather than poetry and have governed with the literary prowess of chimps with typewriters. I mention this however, not to have another “pop” at an easy target, but to suggest that we might be the problem.

A typical day for me will include good intentions, some work, some prevarication, some setbacks, a disappointment or two and the odd moment of quiet satisfaction. I imagine your days might be similar.

However, imagine your day now with a few hundred thousand social media followers, a bunch of cameras following you everywhere and national newspaper journalists filing 800 words about every comment you make, on what you wear and how you look. Imagine your self-doubt, small setbacks and changes of heart being analysed as if you were not there, but with you able to hear every word and see every thoughtless, unkind or abusive comment.

After a while, what would you become? Is it possible you would retreat to banality, take fewer risks, feign interest so as not to cause offence, stick to your closest and most loyal friends, offer sweeping generalisations rather than detail, find comfort in ambiguity and deny that what you said before is what you meant?

In 2015 I was lucky enough to be a political candidate. I had a 100 day campaign in that year’s General Election – I was a hopelessly inexperienced candidate in an unwinnable seat and a threat to no-one, but I would regularly get 100 emails a day, be criticised for not knowing the back story on a policy issue and challenged by my fellow candidates for things others in the Party had said or done. At first it was kind of bizarre, then overwhelming, but by the end I loved it and I have lots of fond memories – including my mistakes. I loved it because I knew I could not do everything, so I chose to do something. Small acts of kindness, giving people some time, sharing my thoughts as incomplete threads, turning up, saying thank you, listening, taking an interest…

It is incredibly liberating to be able to say, “the small difference I want to make today is…” and then taking joy in a moment that we influenced.

It is liberating not because it must be done (who knows what traps the day may have in store!). It is liberating because it is permission not to do everything.

When a politician says, in effect, “vote for me and I will sort out the world” we might as well have heard “vote for me, I have resorted to cliché because if I say anything specific, you will pile in; if I sound unambitious, I’ll be called weak; and if I don’t criticise my opponents, they will still criticise me”.

What if a politician were to say “I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t hate my opponents and sometimes the detail will have to follow the idea, but I will get up each morning and give this my best shot. I will work bloody hard, and surround myself with good people, I’ll also want to walk my dog and play with the kids. I may get more things wrong than I get right, but I’ll let you know about it all. If I make a difference you like you can vote for me again. If I don’t do enough, you will vote for someone else. We can still be kind even when we disagree.”

Very few people, sadly but understandably, want to be politicians; however whatever our work, we can all fall into the trap of being distracted by the impossibility of everything rather that the joy in the possibility of something.

We can choose.

Take care.

Paul

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