The Stress of Holding Office in Tumultuous Times
As societies break down you see a breakdown at all levels. You can see it on display in our government organizations in villages, townships, cities, counties, states, and countries. You can see it in private clubs, friend groups, and family units. And you can see it in individuals. Each of these reinforces the other in an unstable and destabilizing positive feedback loop leading to… something big.
This isn’t the first time it has happened, nor will it be the last. One of my favorite books on the subject is ‘Escape From Freedom’ by Erich Fromm. It came out in 1941. The basic idea is that in times when there’s a pervasive feeling of loneliness and powerlessness in a society people respond in a few different ways. They become authoritarian with its complementary submissiveness, they conform, and/or they become destructive. We see all of these things happening now.
You can see this division in the representatives of the people holding public office. You can see it in their differing beliefs and actions, but you can see it in a different way too. You can see it in the toll that the stress of the role is taking on them at a personal level. I can see it in myself.
In general, people initially pursue political office as part of a desire to make the world a better place. Then, you find that government moves slow and clunky no matter what, which is a feature and not a bug, but it is frustrating. You can get the impression of being a cog in a machine and that feeling of powerlessness arises. You have a spotlight on you, with people with bad intentions watching the closest, and you get that feeling of being alone even when you’re with others. You get criticized on issues no matter what decision you make. Then, guess what, the politicians have a tendency to become authoritarian, or conforming, or destructive. The same as the rest of the society. Representing the people through and through.
I knew these things coming into office, so they haven’t caught me by surprise as I’ve noticed happens to some others. I made two personal statements, largely to myself, that I wouldn’t let the job destroy my health or my soul. It’s noticeable that there’s been a toll on my health, and my personal meditation practice has also been relegated to a lower priority, as I’ve focused on fixing as much at the township as I can. I was hoping that I could limit such an aggressive approach to tackling things to the first six months. That turned into a year. And that’s fair, there’s a lot to tackle.
It makes the most sense to front load the four year term with training and the opening up of problems, to get the ball rolling, so that I can work on resolving them by the end of 2024. Some of them have gone faster than I expected, like the business park; some are slower, like the sewer; and some we’re making steady progress on, like zoning reform.
The reason that the times are divisive is that people want change. There’s a restlessness in the society. But, people disagree on the change they want to see. So relationships are torn apart in the battle. All of these things can leave people mired in doom and gloom. Yet there is hope, as Carl Jung says in ‘The Undiscovered Self’, “Despite all of the differences, the unity of mankind will assert itself irresistibly.”
Whether in office or not, we all must find a way to fulfill individual meaning in our lives while making the world a better place. I’ll leave you with one of the best answers I’ve ever heard, from Karl Jaspers in ‘The Question of German Guilt’.
“Political liberty begins with the majority of individuals in a people feeling jointly liable for the politics of their community. It begins when the individual not merely covets and chides, when he demands of himself, rather, to see reality and not to act upon the faith — misplaced in politics — in an earthly paradise failing of realization only because of the others’ stupidity and ill-will. It begins when he knows, rather, that politics looks in the concrete world for the negotiable path of each day, guided by the ideal of human existence as liberty. In short: without purification of the soul there is no political liberty.”