Indirect approaches

February 17, 2012

I suppose politicians and pundits and other high profile people have a sense, that goes with leadership, that the important task for them is to affect other people directly.  That’s what I would call driving the front end of the firetruck.  But there’s also the phenomenon of how, when we figure out our own personal challenges, we affect others indirectly, how some things fall into place when another issue, seemingly separate, is resolved.  This could be steering the rear end of the firetruck, in that it’s less obvious but it’s still important.  I also think of it as the lining of the coat (and yesterday I was talking to a woman whose red wool winter coat had a gorgeous inner lining).

Maybe it’s like repacking a suitcase that won’t close — it may not be the items on the top that need to be refolded, it may be something packed at the bottom of the valise that needs to be rearranged.

So, I look at the Republican presidential nominating contest, and I think, maybe these folks need to get their own houses in order before they go out trying to change things through repealing this and passing that.  Maybe if we had politicians who had their own personal issues resolved, other things would fall into place.  So much focus is brought to bear on building the platform necessary to command attention or the campaign needed to influence others through ads and debates and interviews, but I sometimes wonder what would happen if we all spent more time resolving the issues that really are within our reach, like unresolved competition with parents (Romney), unresolved fears that fuel conspiracy theories (Paul), unresolved sense of inadequacy that may manifest as grandiosity (Gingrich), conflict aversion (Obama).

I see personal issues among those providing the media coverage, too, but without trying to take everybody’s inventory, I would just observe that when we hear ourselves saying something analogous to “we need to go to war to make peace,” we should reconsider — we are, if not what we eat, we are what we actually manifest in this world, not what we claim we’ll get to later.  If the media goes for the gotcha takedown on a candidate deemed “deserving” of the technique, then that becomes a more generally accepted tool across the boards — if ends are used to justify means, we are still left with the presence and consequences of the means.  If we act belligerently on the rationalization that it will allow us to do something constructive later, we are not reckoning with the consequences of the damage we are creating through our method and with the fact that we are going to be belligerent people, rather than be peaceful people masquerading as belligerent people.

We tell ourselves stories, especially the kind in which our role in the stories is what we want to do for other, unexamined reasons.  Sometimes it is pretty clear to me that the way towards progress is to do something very immediate and seemingly minor, like to recognize where we are indulging our desires but framing it as if we are rigorously following a moral code, to stop believing our own stories when they are feeding our pre-existing biases and attachments.  When I studied torts in law school, the professor used to talk about the person who thought they could make better use of the book than its actual owner — when we hear ourselves using similar justifications, I think we should be skeptical and reconsider why, if we think we should have such a book, we don’t have our own, and try to become a person who comes into possession of such a book, organically.



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