Political Column — Do I Like Being Supervisor?
Last month the local Girl Scout troop leaders needed a location to divide up their cookie shipment, and they did that at the township. It went well. While talking with the organizer she asked me how long I’ve been in office, I told her about 15 months. Next she asked, “Do you like it?” It’s a question I’ve been asked quite a lot since taking the position. I said, in a matter of fact tone, “No.” And, like most people, she returned a look of surprise, and that brought forth a soft chuckle from me.
Over and over I’ve been surprised that people are surprised that I don’t like the job. I didn’t run for office because I thought I would like it. Actually, it disturbs me that there are people that like being politicians. And it saddens me that people who don’t think they’ll like doing the job don’t run for office.
There’s an important difference to recognize between government and the rest of society. Thomas Paine pointed it out in 1776 in ‘Common Sense’, “Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other createst distinctions. The first is a patron, the last is a punisher.”
For me personally, and I believe for most decent people, it’s a distasteful responsibility. Yet it’s important, and that’s why I’m doing it. That’s a theme that we see in the Founding Fathers. A willingness to do this distasteful thing for a time because it’s important.
Politics is about societal conflict resolution through other means than violence. The structures that are created to achieve the end of peace are clunky and frustrating. A business would not structure itself like a government, because it would fail. But the purpose of government and business is different, so they require differences, even if that is frustrating and confusing. We must always seek to remember this difference.
One annoyance of the position are the haters. It’s inevitable in such a role that you’re going to have thousands of people vote against you. And some of those people are going to spread rumors and lie about you, try to undermine you, resist and complain and criticize anything that you do. There is not a possible non-controversial path. You must choose your hard.
I appreciate the haters. It’s difficult to have enough patience to do that, but I think it’s important in government. As B. H. Liddell Hart points out in ‘Why Don’t We Learn from History’, “For the tendency of all ‘governments’ is to infringe the standards of decency and truth; this is inherent in their nature and hardly avoidable in their practice.” Because there’s such a tendency for people to use deception and act in an underhanded way with the government, there’s the complementary opposite reaction for the government to be repressive, in a vicious cycle. People are constantly searching for the enemy out there, in someone else, but it’s truly this reactivity within us that is the enemy. Only by personal growth can we overcome that and fulfill the meaning and purpose of our lives. For society it’s about growth, for government it’s about restraint. The good person is capable of doing bad, and makes the choice to restrain the bad and do the good.
As Paine and Hart both point out, government is a necessary evil. There is a burden in filling that role. There is pressure in fulfilling the demands of any role. In government the demands are impossible to fulfill. People want the impossible and ignore the possible; complain about the bad and forget about the good; focus on the gap between what is and the ideal, rather than recognize progress that is being made; forget about rights and seek personal advantage. Many people don’t realize this truth of the government being a necessary evil. Some forget that it’s necessary. Others forget that it’s evil by its very nature. It remains both.
And yet, I appreciate the role. As the Fremen in ‘Dune’ say, “Be prepared to appreciate what you meet.” We can create meaningful things. I’ve created more transparency and access in government, and we’re in the process of creating ordinances that better recognize individual rights. We can experience meaningful things. I’ve experienced a frustrating organizational structure that in business is usually only seen by the C-suite in businesses with a lot of investors, and the difficulty of walking the narrow path to move a system in a good direction without breaking it. Even when our ability to create or control experience is blocked, we can still attain meaning in our lives by achieving attitudinal values. By looking within, by transforming ourselves, by reaching a greater understanding of our own humanity. My entire life is that process.
So, do I like being supervisor? No. Do I think it’s important? Yes. Do I think it’s a necessary evil? Yes. Do I think people should appreciate the structure of society that allows for peace and prosperity? Yes. Do I think people should criticize the government, even when the government happens to be me? Yes. Do I think there’s inherent meaning waiting to be discovered in everyone’s life regardless of their situation? Yes. Do I think people are distracted from what is important by what’s not important? Yes. Do I think there’s hope? Yes.