Have We Chosen the Wrong Type of People to Govern Ourselves?

Have We Chosen the Wrong Type of People to Govern Ourselves?

Part 1 of a 4 Part        Uplifting America Series by Michael W. Krajovic      

           While we change as we age, our patterns of thinking are basically the products of our cumulative past experiences.  They have a tremendous influence on how we perceive and address current situations in our lives.   Our social environments of family, school, neighborhood, work and provincial culture expose each of us to different people, ways of thinking and behaving which has a large impact on who we are today and how we think.

             Brain researchers are now able to show us how different environmental experiences activate certain parts of our brains.  Those areas that do not get stimulated, eventually degenerate and fade away because the neuron connections are not given opportunities to nourish themselves.  Similarly, those that are used regularly grow and flourish.  In other words, people’s brains are wired differently based on the experiences that they have been exposed to.  Children are especially impressionable as they mimic behaviors of their parents and other individuals they naturally look up to.   A child born into a violent inner city environment surrounded by violence, will have a highly developed fight or flight brain response, but by the time they enter adulthood, the parts of the brain that deal with the feeling of compassion might be minimally developed.  They have been experientially programmed to be very suspicious of the world around them from living in a tough, survival environment.  Being compassionate of others or feeling empathic are often difficult to experience, unless there was someone involved in their lives who was able to demonstrate and nurture those behaviors.  Survival is their main motive.

            A child born into a very hard working family, where the father and mother push the child to extremes to succeed, will develop other neuron connections, but they may also be lacking compassion, empathy and sympathy for others.  They have been taught that to be successful in a very competitive, global economy, where they must be willing to make sacrifices and tough financial decisions, with little regard to the human consequences.  They may be taught by their parents, not formally, but indirectly through their actions, to put work above family.  Making money to earn the respect of their parents and peers is often their motive.

            Perhaps the most extreme example of how human patterns of thinking can be so controlled is when children are born into families with radical fundamentalist beliefs.  Without ever having been harmed by someone of different race or religion, they can actually be taught to viciously hate others who are different from them.  Bigotry and racism are often the result.  As an extreme but very poignant example of how powerful parental and environmental influence can be, children can be taught to believe that it is holy to kill even if it means ending their own life as a suicide bomber.  As unnatural, desperate and even demonic as this might be for parent and child, going against the essence of life itself, human brains can be programmed to do the unimaginable.  The evidence is clear, our individual experiences have a profound impact on our beliefs.  Our beliefs determine how we perceive the world, interact and respond to it.

          Carrying this understanding forward when looking at state and national governments, it is not surprising to see the great divide that exists between liberals and conservatives.  They have come from different backgrounds, families, belief systems and life experiences.

Liberals vs. Conservatives

         There are many examples to demonstrate this, but let’s look at the classic struggle between liberals and conservatives.  Liberals and their social activists’ companions, who might have grown up in the environment of depressed urban centers or who had parents that did, fight to help the underserved, but often lose sight of when help turns into dependency.  They are vilified by conservatives as simply wanting to take from the rich to give to the poor.  The conservatives and their often equally aggressive activists’ companions, who might have grown up in the richer suburbs in very competitive environments and fought their way to success or emulate their parents who did, fight for freedom so they can be allowed to make as much money as possible regardless of the consequences socially, economically or environmentally.  They are vilified by liberals as wanting to exploit the poor or the environment to become rich. 

         The liberals believe government can be a force for social good, and the conservatives believe government gets in the way of being successful.  In this situation, both are coming from competitive backgrounds of fight and survival.  Both are fighting for their piece of the pie.   One wants to redistribute wealth, the other wants to maximize wealth even if it means taking it from others.   The liberal background experiences might be more physical and personal, and the conservative’s more financial and impersonal, but the motives are similar.  It is an us vs. them mentality.  Each side’s loss is considered the other side’s gain.  They are caught in an eternal struggle.

          Some people say this is natural.  People believe that humans are naturally competitive in a world that needs to be ruled by law where the strongest and the smartest compete for power, survival and success.  But are these natural laws or are they learned behaviors that have become so common that they are considered natural?  It may be the norm to teach these behaviors according to local culture and beliefs, but that does not make them natural.   Each person, whether liberal or conservative, inherently seeks freedom for their own unique and individual expression, but they do not inherently seek conflict.  Outwardly expressing different opinions is natural as is desiring approval and acceptance of those opinions.  Not receiving acceptance often creates conflict.

             So in seeking government leaders, it is important to seek people with open minds who can consider other differing opinions without having to engage in conflict.  Too many people are elected to office to wage battle against the other side in this never ending struggle without a larger vision to move beyond the war of philosophies that continues to hold the advancement of humankind hostage.  When we look at professional backgrounds of the people in high levels of government today, we see that many have been business people, career politicians or attorneys.  Are they the types of leaders we need today?

Are Lawyers the Leaders We Need?

          Lawyers seem to dominate many elected positions because they have been raised in an environment of intellectual debate, where everyone is entitled to their opinion.  While being able to listen to others’ opinions is a step in the right direction, many attorneys have worked in careers that basically turned them into hired guns.  Clients pay them to represent their interests and points of view, not their own.  An attorney might defend a chronic criminal, or a corporation that created an environmental catastrophe.  I know of local attorneys who represent dead beat dads who do their best to hide their income to avoid having to pay child support.  In a small town, everyone knows it, but the attorneys are hired by the dads regardless of their reputation, to do their legal bidding no matter how outrageous it might be.  There are also many attorneys working to defend the defenseless, but most will defend anybody regardless of the factual truth or legitimacy of their client’s position simply because they are being paid.  This is a very grey area and there are thousands of examples that could be argued both ways in discussing an individual’s right to the due process of our legal system, but the statement still stands that attorneys represent a unique profession where people are excused from their own personal values and morality in exchange for money to represent someone else’s.   Corporate attorneys are a strong example of this.  Coming from this environment it is easy to see why so many people with legal backgrounds run for office.   They have been mentally trained to represent the views of others.  Providing leadership, standing up for principles and making major course changing decisions based on personal integrity is not the strength of the majority of this professional group.  Those that do follow their values often spend their careers working in activist organizations to stop injustices, and they stay out of politics because they do not want to prostitute their convictions to gain political supporters.  Campaign contributions are just like client retainers where they are paid to represent their contributors’ interests. 

Are Career Politicians the Leaders We Need?

             A career politician is someone who is trained to listen to other opinions and speak by upsetting the least amount of people.   They avoid controversy whenever possible to maintain their voter majority.  This reminds me of the time I can vividly recall being a part of training program for a speaker’s bureau for the large company I was working for at the time.  Part of the program included a presentation from representatives of the company’s political action committee or what is commonly referred to as a PAC.  The woman giving the presentation whose name was Jean made a remark that I have never forgotten.  Jean had worked for the PAC for many years.  As she was explaining the role of the PAC and how it interfaced with the political and legislative processes, she said that she was beginning to see a new trend emerging where for the first time in her career as a political activist, there were people running for office whose resumes listed themselves as career politicians.  This was back in the early 1980’s.  Jean was recognizing that there was a shift occurring from the idea of the private citizen volunteering to serve in public office to individuals who did not just want to serve, but were searching for a lifelong career in politics.

          Today it is widely accepted that one of the major problems with government is the career politician.  Establishing term limits is a concept that continues to come up year after year, but is virtually impossible to accomplish because of the career politicians in government who want to protect their livelihood.  It is difficult to get people to listen when their job is dependent upon them not hearing, plus the constitutionality of term limits is debatable.  Though rare today, there could be a great public servant, wise from many years of life experiences, a leader among leaders, who would be a great loss to society if he or she had to resign from public service after just a few years.  But people are desperate for change, and if term limits could be put on a public referendum, it would probably pass.  However, any new term limit law that would pass will simply be an errant attempt to try to correct something that cannot be changed by simply changing the length of terms.  The core problem rests with changing beliefs that caused individual behaviors to go awry for both candidates and the voters that elect them.

           Government today at all levels desperately needs true public servant leaders regardless how long they are allowed to serve, and not just politicians who think giving the people what they want is the best way to stay in office.  Or those career politicians who are skilled at convincing the public that they are acting in their best interest while actually they are pursuing their own self interests and those of their financial supporters seeking special government favors.  No new laws can substitute for individual greatness and true leadership.  These cannot be legislated.  Until the people are willing to listen to those that are strong enough and honest enough to say what is not working and what needs to change, regardless of how much personal sacrifice it will call upon everyone to make, government will not change.  Term limits will not address a problem that originates from a problem with the will of the people.  As long as the majority of people are only interested in change as long as it does not adversely affect them financially, this will not change.

            And so we continue to re-elect career politicians.  They are very good at telling us what we want to hear, and often avoiding the truth of what we should hear.  Many and their supporters believe leadership is about gaining seniority to increase their influence to bring public funds back to their district.  Governing gets “dumbed down” to “bringing home the bacon.”   But knowing that government is no longer working and that eventually something must change, many people believe that it will change by electing more business people to office.

Are Business People the Leaders We Need?

             Successful business people are also seek public office because they believe that if they can balance a private company’s budget and make a profit, they then are qualified to run a government.  This argument carries more weight today as governments all over the world and at all levels – city, state and national are running massive deficits.   People believe that since they could make money in a competitive for-profit environment, that they can save money in a non-competitive, public environment.   Politicians with this background claim that they can make government more efficient and competitive like they ran their companies.   Cutting cost is the easiest way for companies to make money.  As chief executives of their company, they are omnipotent.  Without any strategic vision, they can simply demand their vice presidents cut costs by a percentage.  They lay off workers, leaving a few to do the work of many, while increasing the need for social services of government to help their now unemployed workers.  Or they ship jobs overseas to take advantage of desperate workers willing to work at subsistent wages to accomplish the same objective and create the same financial benefits.  Many then run for office claiming government is too big, while they contributed to the need for bigger government.  They lack the ability to see the bigger picture of how their own actions impact society.

            This is the culture of modern business.  The primary goal is the next quarter’s profits.  For public corporations, the CEO is paid to pursue one objective – to increase shareholder wealth.  Employees are motivated by the desire to make more money. These profits most often come at the expense of another company’s revenue competing in the same marketplace.  One company’s gain is another’s loss.  Long term if it is considered at all, is all about how to grow the business to increase profits often dealing with mergers and acquisitions and emerging markets.  Long term is also research and development which is often related to government funded programs.  Rarely do businesses advocate cutting government funded R & D, or contracts for government work like the defense or medical industry.  The drug companies were not against the trillion dollar government prescription drug program, they wanted it.  The defense companies are not against the trillions of government dollars spent on defense every year worldwide, they encourage it.  The large agricultural conglomerates are not against cutting the billions of agricultural subsidies, they defend them.

            So how does working for the sole purpose of increasing profits, or increasing shareholder wealth for a select few, at someone else’s loss, prepare someone for working in government to address the common interests of everyone?  Their vision is about growing their business revenues.  They automatically equate taxpayers to shareholders.  Cutting costs by reducing government is nothing more than the usual boiler plate, simple business strategy of trying to make the bottom line look good as soon as possible.  Nearly 20% of all public companies are now owned by private equity firms often acquired after a hostile takeover, or highly leveraged buyout.  While some work to improve efficiency, often they strip out not just the fat, but muscle of the company to generate a short term financial picture of increased profitability in order to flip the company public once again to make short term profit.  What is often left is just a skeleton of a company with overburdened employees working long hours to keep their jobs.  Less costs and higher productivity means greater competitiveness and profits.  Unfortunately, the leveraged company will be on the verge of financial collapse with even the slightest downturn in sales.  The idea of worrying about any negative effects on employees, the environment, the investors that they sell the gutted company to, or society in general is not the concern of these business owners.  They are trained to look out for their own interests and the interests of their company, not the interests of others.  Taking care of others is limited to the shareholders so they can get personally rewarded with more money through bonuses and stock options.  The better private equity firms try to improve operating efficiencies, but once again, this comes at the loss of some other competitor.  This is contrary to the purpose of government whose responsibility is to look out for the general welfare of everyone, or as better stated – to serve the common good to ensure domestic tranquility and liberty and justice for all.  It is not about doing things for the short term personal gain of a few.

            Running a business as the owner and chief executive is also not good training for learning to work with others with different opinions to solve complex issues.  Developing consensus without having the power to fire anyone at anytime is a much different game.  Whether it is spoken of or not, their subordinates often live in fear of keeping their jobs, and have to carefully balance their comments and actions from taking risks to make things happen to not making a mistake.  From my perspective, most business people are not wired to work with others who have strong differing opinions from different political parties and backgrounds.  These are the people they fire, but they can’t do that in government with as much freedom.  They must learn to work together, starting with deep and genuine listening to ideas that may be foreign and in conflict with their own way of thinking.  An open mind is necessary to make the best long term decisions, to reach compromises and solve problems that are in the best interests of the common good.  But this is contrary to their imbedded nature and culture of beliefs.  A successful business person may actually more often than not, make a lousy public servant.

             To sum all of this up, I really like the analogy that if people are used to only carrying a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail to them.  It is the only way they know how to work, to contribute to society and solve problems.   Trying to clean windows, cutting grass, taking care of the elderly, educating a child with a hammer as your only tool, does not work very well.  But it is all they have been trained to do.  It is how their brain is wired to think and tackle problems.  And so if lawyers, career politicians and business people in general do not make good public servants, because they have the wrong backgrounds and established brain patterns that make them see, reason and act differently, who does?

Name Recognition Leaders

           Well based on past experiences, it appears that voters think that people with the right last name do.  Having a famous father or mother is invaluable for running for office.  It is amazing how many people win elections riding on the coat tails of their family name.  Sometimes it is the hidden insider relationships that come from long time family political connections with key supporters that is the most powerful benefit from family.  While electing people by name is not necessarily a guarantee for failure in office, it certainly is not the best way to select a candidate.  This only amplifies the point that people are less interested in hearing about real issues.  In today’s politics, there is no second place so doing everything to make sure your party’s candidates win, is the primary concern.  It further demonstrates that campaigns are more about marketing and public relations where name recognition can be worth millions of free advertising, than selecting leaders with the abilities and vision to solve complex issues.  People would rather vote for someone familiar, than for someone new with unfamiliar ideas, and even go so as far as to vote simply because the candidate’s last name sounds familiar.  The Bush family in America is a good example of this, but it happens frequently at all levels of government from local to national offices.  As history has shown, sometimes the public gets lucky and elects a competent leader who was someone’s relative, but sometimes it can go terribly wrong.  Much depends upon the backgrounds and life experiences of each individual.

            In closing it must be said that being a lawyer, business executive, career politician or famous relative, does not automatically make a person a poor public servant.  It must also be said that this does not make a person bad.  This article is about explaining how different people with different upbringings and work backgrounds can be stuck in set patterns of thinking.  Their minds are often closed to new ways of thinking.  They are only doing what they believe is right, but this does not make them good leaders.  So “forgive them for they know not what they do” is truer than most people realize, but that does not mean to stand passively by and let them run government, slowly ruining society which desperately needs a new breed of public servant leaders.  Of course incumbents can change overtime, but does society have the time to wait to see if they are willing?  Remember they believe that their opponents are the ones who are ruining society.  More political grid lock is the result, creating a pendulum of repetitive election cycles which do not address fundamental problems.  As voters, people need to become more discerning in selecting their representatives including demonstrating a desire to address long term issues in the best interest of everyone, not just their own.

I invite you to read the subsequent three articles in this four part series, for more insight into answering the question –“Have We Chosen the Wrong Type of People to Govern Ourselves?”

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