There has been quite a lot of talk these days about the fact that politics is not delivering leadership.In the US, Washington is mired in gridlock. Worse still, it seems impossible to generate meaningful dialogue about serious issues. In Europe, core issues of the sustainability of the Euro find no political forum at all. And of course, these are perhaps the two most sophisticated political systems in the world.
Should we despair? give up on politics? Some might be tempted. They yearn for simpler ways to get decisions made. But this yearning ignores a problem — making decisions is just one part of the process in producing great societies. A more important part is assessing what decisions need to be made. And here, individuals tend to get lost in their own agendas. They flounder when they need to pivot. So we are stuck with a group process, like it or not.
The question then is how to make politics better? And here I think we need to do a re-think. For too long we have nurtured the fantasy that politicians lead. In fact, they do not. What they do is watch closely to uncover how to get elected to office and stay in office. And they do that stuff — no matter how silly it might seem. This is not leadership.
So if we want more dynamic leadership in society, we need to look to channels that compel politicians to follow — not plead with them to lead. What channels? That is an interesting question — and one that needs urgent attention.
the traditional answer is that we look to media. A free press can save us! Free exchange of ideas is the future! And I think few would debate whether media is essential. But is freedom enough? I think not. The missing sauce here is accountability. When the press is not accountable for the reporting that it does, it can broadcast whatever it wants.
I will be thinking a bit more about how to generate more accountability. Stay tuned!
I just got off the phone with a colleague. She was on the way to a meeting to try to work out a conflict. I got the background, but not much detail. All I needed to hear was that there is a “communication problem”.
These things happen all the time. It is surprising, therefore, how frequently we fail to deal with communication breakdown when it happens.
Let’s be blunt for a moment. Not all communication has equal value. So when I hear, “let’s talk.” I start getting nervous. Why do we need to “talk”? Is there a problem? Of course, there is. And if there is a problem, it will affect how well we can communicate. At that moment, we should be on our guard. We are likely to start talking trash. And that just makes the underlying problem worse.
So a lesson to be learned — learn when not to listen. You stop listening to substance when you are confident that it has no value in coping with underlying problems.
When we get frustrated, weird things happen. First, we tend to focus on what is frustrating us. That is normal, but it is also a not a great idea. Why? Because the thing that frustrates us is usually just a symptom of a deeper issue. The more narrowly we think of the symptom, the less clear we tend to be about the cause.
We get trapped in negative conflicts more than we should and when we are locked in, we get frustrated. This is why folks often give speeches when they get angry. They think they need to in order to get it all out. To “clear the air”. And they may be convinced that they need to to that — for themselves. But what about everyone else?
Hmmm … usually, these speeches are emotional and deeply focused on only a few points. They can be very good on those points. But they lack balance and they often close off opportunities from the other side to see the situation more clearly.
They are usually, the best speech that should NOT have been made. The reverse gives a different experience. If you think through what the situation demands and then offer it, you can walk away from the encounter knowing that you did your best to move on. You may not have given the speech you wanted to give, but you can pat yourself on the back for being a better conflict manager.
This is in part a post about US media. Let’s get to that background first. US media used to make a distinction between “entertainment” and “news”. The entertainment was silly. The news was serious. And the news was offered in a sober way. That was a long time ago.
Now US media is all about entertainment. Sobriety is out the window. And the most extreme example of the conversion of news into entertainment is Fox. Fox is not funny, but it is entertainment. Why? Because is it about manipulating your emotions. Salon makes this point — a point made also by many others — rather well.
Here is the thing. Fox and other entertainment vehicles manipulate a certain emotion in particular – that is fear. This is dangerous because when our fears are triggered, our amygdala responses are triggered. And that, my friends, makes us stupid. We get into a fight or flight response cycle.
So — let’s move beyond US media. Do you track people who do this trick to you? If you experience this, keep in mind that this is a tactic. Nothing more. And people who recklessly use and abuse this tactic should know that they are “beyond the pale”.
It is time to assert this as a cultural norm. Sobriety, at times, works.
Readers of this blog know that I have taken a pretty clear line of argument on the Ukraine crisis. Mr. Putin’s Russia has upset the regional security arrangements that have been in place at least since 1991. But not everyone would frame the issues at stake that way. And David Stockman sees things differently.
lI find his writing to be rather fascinating. If you read between the lines, his main point is that the situation on the ground is less clear than western media makes it out to be.
In short, the reality in Kiev is more complex than the black-and-white cartoon of Vladimir Putin vs. the freedom fighters drawn by our resident Russophobic elite. Perspective is in order.
From this starting point, Dave throws in lots and lots of complexity. he revels in it. It is called a smoke screen. Beware this argument tactic!