I have a problem with authority. Many people who know me slightly will have no idea what I mean. Even some of my closer friends and co-workers won’t understand what I mean. You see, it’s not that I have trouble or resistance to following directions, somebody’s lead or being a team player. I can do, do, and have done all those things on a regular basis. Hell, just yesterday my wife told me the trash needed to go out, so I told me kids to take it out. I’ve also held many leadership roles(please refer to my excellent management and delegation skills exercised in the previous sentence). I don’t act out, you certainly won’t see me spitting at authority figures or even participating in most protests. No, the problem is that I am not a follower. I know what you’re thinking -“But Dan, didn’t you just provide examples of being exactly that?”
Well no, no I didn’t.
A follower does not question, they just do. To steal a phrase, “Ours is not to question why, ours is but to do and die.” It turns out I don’t do that very well at all. I blame my childhood and naturally inquisitive nature. I question motives, ideas, plans, expertise, etc. I do it in real time, even as I am conversing with whoever is supposed to be giving me direction or leadership. I evaluate the person- their body language and speech patterns. I evaluate what they’re telling me. Does it make sense, is it logical, will it achieve the stated goal? Are they telling me everything? If not, why? Do I trust this person? I take it down multiple avenues of thought, to various conclusions, if needed. I usually do this in seconds, longer if it is something ongoing. I add additional data points as time goes on. And then I decide whether this person or thing is worth allowing to direct and dictate my actions. And I act on it. All the time.
Most of us do this to a greater or lesser degree. Some people almost never d preferring the comfort of not having to decide for themselves. Others do before forming a solid basis for doing so. The question is how soon we start listening to our conclusions and elect to take action, if any.
But enough about me, what about you? Growing up, perhaps even recently, did you ever hate it when people would put words in your mouth? Or tell you what you were thinking or feeling? All without ever actually asking you? Did you ever have the experience of being told exactly what your were going to do, what you were going to say, all without your input? Yeah, me too. So on to the reason for my post today.
You see, that whole putting words and actions onto other people? To me, that is the modern campaign process in a nutshell. It’s a series of commercials played every 5-10 minutes for months on end. And those commercials fall into two typical categories. Category one is telling you how bad the opposing candidate is for you. It will have a list of things that those candidates will do that you won’t like. Many times it is accompanied by a quote or comment taken woefully out of context. The other category is the one where the candidate tells you what they stand for, except they really don’t. They tell you they share your values, but they don’t offer specifics. They believe in more jobs, better schools and a unicorn in every pot. And vets and freedom, too! But they’re awfully light on details, electing to speak in generalities that tell you absolutely nothing about what they will do when they get elected, much less how or why.
During this last election I visited the web sites of the majority of the candidates as I was considering who to vote for. Since I’m no longer a Republican(and honestly haven’t been for a decade or more), I visited candidates on both sides of the aisle to see which party I’d be forced to vote for(that’s a pet peeve for another post). Many of their sites contained depressingly few details. Lots of general statements, some of which you could roughly shoehorn into a platform, of sorts. Very little actionable plans, though. No cause and effect, no justifications for the actions or ideas. Just fluff.
So, you’re running for office and you have plans. Big ones, great ones. The best plans. And those plans will do things. Big things, great things. And I will be happy. And your opponent, (variable pronoun) has plans. Bad ones, horrible ones. The worst ones. I won’t be happy. But you won’t tell me how or why, you just tell me to believe you. And since you’ve already told me what the other guy is going to do and how (insert your preferred pronoun) thinks, I don’t even have to consider them. Gosh you made it easy for me!
Can you see, just a little bit, why I might question your authority? Your competency for the job? No? Well, politics and upper management are probably the right career choices for you! Leadership and statesmanship, however, are not.
So here is an idea for our candidates working to get my vote. A suggestion based on how I would run if I had any idea or plan to do so. Stop telling the public how bad the other person is. Stop focusing on why they would be the wrong choice. Instead, tell me why you’re the person I want in office. Imagine you’re at a job interview. Tell me what you’re going to do, how you’re going to do it, and make sure you tell me how you plan to keep listening to me after I’ve hired you. Tell me how our relationship will continue once the ads stop running and we all have to do our jobs. And most importantly, tell me honestly.