This is a repost of another blog entry written in the context of the provincial election. I’m revising it slightly in light of the Municipal Election happening now in Alberta. See the original post here.
If there’s one thing that unites most, if not all politicians, it’s the ongoing bafflement about how to motivate an increasingly disillusioned electorate. In backrooms everywhere, political wonks debate methods of getting average folks on their side. They talk about advertising, signage and social media campaigns. They discuss their candidate’s best qualities, review their key messages and even discuss wardrobe. But too often, these unabashed political junkies miss one very important point. THEY are often the cause of the electorate’s disillusionment.
Overzealous political campaigners are a total turn-off to the average disengaged citizen. Think of it like a dating profile. Demonstrating fanatical devotion to your candidate is akin to declaring yourself a smoker–90% of your potential dates have already archived your profile before you can say, “policy platform.”
There are some very good reasons for this. It goes back to kindergarten. Most of us were taught from an early age that name-calling is wrong. We were most likely scolded for responding to situations with derisive or childish labels. Our parents and teachers would have reminded us to keep our emotions under control and try to respond reasonably and fairly. We are encouraged to criticize constructively, build bridges and respect differences.
Then, we become adults and observe politics. The first thing we notice is that everything we learned in kindergarten doesn’t apply in politics. We see name-calling, angry retorts involving derisive labels, childish responses to questions and a total lack of respect for differing opinions. And many of us shake our heads in disgust. This is why honest and intelligent citizens recoil from involvement in the political sphere. They don’t show up to vote because they feel their mere participation in the voting process equates to sanctioning behaviour they see as repulsive. It’s like asking someone to drive the getaway car for a bank robbery. Is it any wonder that people balk?
Now, I am not advocating apathy. I’ve voted in every election since I turned 18 and continue to encourage my family and friends to get out and vote, despite their disapproval of politics. What I am doing is urging each and every candidate out there to rethink the way they do politics. I’m also suggesting pundits and avid supporters stop demonstrating childish and egotistical behaviour. You may like listening to yourself throw insults around and think you are illustrating your superior intellect, but I can assure you that all you are doing is driving away potential voters.
Let’s stick to respectful disagreement and quit putting people into categories so that you can write them off more easily. Our political system is becoming increasingly fractured because people refuse to work together respectfully. Instead of cooperating for better communities, we seem to be turning our backs on each other and building walls. Our social media conversations are rife with petty name-calling and you can tune in at any point in time to observe angry and emotional exchanges involving political operatives on all sides of the spectrum.
Humour is one way to engage people, but a great deal of skill is needed to do this well. You can deliver a funny, biting political commentary without appearing petty or belittling…but it does take some careful thought. Most zealots lack the ability to do this well, unfortunately. Good political humour is largely coming from non-politicians, since outsiders seem to be capable of thinking more clearly about the issues than the insiders.
Call me a dreamer, but I think that people can raise the level of political discourse, if they put their minds to it. Your kindergarten teacher will be proud of you.