I would like to believe that over time and with experience most of us grow and change. As we learn more it shapes how we view the world, and it can change our perspective. On occasion, though, this can be startling to others in our world who may not understand this change or for whom it may be unfamiliar - and so it was when I sent a message to a dear friend recently. We were discussing politics, and the message I sent was brief but true to what I have come to believe. Their response was indeed one of surprise, as I think they did not expect this of me. What I said was:
I think we are too hard on politicians.
Now, let me be quite clear on this, as I know I have in the past been quite hard on politicians, and some in particular. In some cases they might have deserved it, particularly when it related to the way they voted on certain issues, or the stance they took on topics that matter to me. In some cases, though, I suspect I veered into being more unkind than I could or should have been, and I have watched as others went into attack modes that had little to do with politics but rather with personality. Over time it has come to trouble me deeply, because I have also come to know many of those who serve us in the political realm and I have seen what we do to them with these kinds of attacks.
Politicians are people. They are not robots, not stone cold automatons without feeling or emotion. Oh, I am sure a select few may be that way, but for the most part I believe they enter politics out of a genuine desire to serve, although most likely have a certain dose of ego involved too (likely a good thing as those without ego would be decimated by the criticism they face once they are in office). They enter into a realm of "damned if you and damned if you don't" with people like me barking at them at every corner, hopefully doing so in a civil manner but not always succeeding.
Politicians don't make anywhere near the kind of money we think they do for the most part - ask them and most will tell you they would make far more in the private sector than as an MLA, for instance. Many municipal councillors in small communities have full-time jobs in addition to their council duties, and the small amount they earn on council is fairly little when compared against the time demands of the job. And the jobs are not nearly as glamorous as we might think either, often just involving a lot of delayed flights, missed connections and lost days they could have been spending with their families but instead spend far away in places like Ottawa. And then the very people they represent don't thank them for their service but instead spend time beating them up online and in newspapers, often veering far too far into the personal and away from the political.
I have considered - and have been asked - to run for political office. Thus far I have always declined, because I know it is not an easy life, not on the campaign trail and certainly not if you succeed and find yourself in office. I know the skin you must grow needs to be inches thick and practically iron clad, able to withstand the barbs of those very people you are trying to represent. If I had to name one strong deterrent to running for office I would suggest it is this one, because anyone who has spent time in the public eye knows how painful growing that thick skin can be, and how it changes you in the process.
Will I be gentle on politicians now, stroking them like kittens and murmuring soft whispers in their ears? No, because I think it is reasonable to have expectations of them in terms of their policies and how they represent us - but I have become far more cognizant of my own contributions to the howling masses. I am sure there will be those who think this post hypocritical, but then again not everyone understands or embraces the concepts of growth and change, either. There are those who remain stuck in time and behaviour and who think others do and should, too, but I am quite happy to not be one of them.
As we head towards another election day - one bound to be contentious - I remind myself of my new understanding and my belief that we can hold people to be accountable without being unkind, and expect them to serve us without trying to skewer them and serve them up on a platter like shishkebabs. I may not always be successful - and on occasion I may slip, too, as old habits take time to break - but I believe the first step in growth is acknowledging the need to do it. We can hold them accountable and we can debate their policies without debating on their worth as human beings, and we can give to them the same kind of respect and dignity with which we hope and expect them to view us.
What I know is this: our elected officials serve us and are in essence our employees - and given the way we treat them sometimes we are terrible, terrible bosses to work for, too. Frankly I doubt many of us would be interested in working for the kind of employers we often seem to be, which is why I hope to be a better boss in the future, so we can attract even better kinds of employees and make them want to stick around, too.