Are We Doing Politics The Way We Do Relationships?

There’s a lot of dissatisfaction and unhappiness in American politics today. There’s a lot of dissatisfaction and unhappiness in relationships, too. Could there be a connection?

September 17, 2019

All of us want politics to deliver what we want. What does your own list of wants include? Safe communities, a clean environment, world peace, sound infrastructure, education? What else? 

We’re in relationships to get what we want, too. We enter marriages for love and family, for example. Business relationships are for profit. Friendships deliver mutual support, a sense of connection, fun … and more. 

It’s quite ordinary for us human beings to end relationships that aren’t giving us what we want. We stop contacting an annoying friend, we end business relationships that aren’t profitable. We divorce when our marriages “aren’t working.” 

Ending relationships, however, is often an unsatisfactory way to get what we want. After all, most relationships deliver a lot of what we want – yet we’re upset and disappointed when a relationship isn’t delivering everything we want, all the time. Of course, everything we want, all the time is a fantasy that no relationship can deliver.

In politics, the fantasy is that everyone should see the world the way I see it. This fantasy in the background says there’s something wrong with people who disagree with my views. 

Today, American politics seems to be marked by a willingness to cut off relationships with anybody who doesn’t give us their agreement about everything, all the time – the fantasy of political relationships. We see this in Congress when opposing parties won’t even talk to each other. We see it in election campaigns when candidates insult voters who disagree with their positions. 

The danger is that while you can end a friendship, close a business, even end a marriage by divorce, we are in a national political relationship – created in our federal and state Constitutions – that’s not going away. A hundred and sixty years ago, some states tried to get a divorce from this Constitutional relationship; the result was a tragic war. 

Maybe we could ask ourselves this: are we behaving in our political relationships the way people behave when they feel “trapped” in a marriage – or a family? Those people stop talking to each other; instead, they talk to people who will agree with their view about how wrong their spouses or their children or their parents are. 

Blaming “the others” and cutting off communication is an ordinary way of handling relationships – personal or political – where we aren’t getting what we want. What’s not ordinary is to be creative – inventing new ways of recovering relationship. 

The alternative to leaving a relationship is to be creative, in the relationship, so that you have the experience of simply being related. 

What is available when you get creative in your personal and business relationships? 

What would be possible if we, as citizens, voters, and elected officials, got creative in our political relationships?

Listen to Paul read "Are We Doing Politics The Way We Do Relationships?" from our podcast.

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