What We Talk About When We Talk About Politics

by Sam Melden

Political conversations go a lot of different directions. Not just left or right, but often these conversations can head toward darkness or toward the light.

One of the most interesting things about being involved in a strange, rushed, non-traditional mayoral campaign, over the past few months, was trying to intentionally observe what we talk about when we talk about politics. It really is all over the map, and that makes sense. “Politics” are everywhere. It is everywhere. In schools, a boardroom, the pulpit, alive at our kitchen tables and even in our city halls - politics is all around us. So, first, it’s important to say when I talk about politics I am specifically talking about politics related to governance. Laws, elections, people… especially people.

“Politics, which is the use of power to order our life together, is a profoundly human enterprise. - Parker Palmer

These words from Palmer stand in pretty stark contrast to some of the conversations and interactions I’ve seen in this last election cycle.

Now, what we mean when we say “human” is also important to talk about. When I say it, I am referring to the best versions of ourselves. To be fully human, is to be fully alive, directed, passionately concerned about one another and wholeheartedly believing yourself to be a part of the human family. I believe that is what it is to be completely human. So, politics then is a pursuit of our best selves, collectively. There are a few things this brings to mind…

  • Elected representatives are called to serve and sacrifice in pursuit of that collective “humanness.” Power is the means, not the end.

  • The rules in a political setting should not be less than the rules in another area. The bar in fact may need to be higher.

  • The thirst for competition and victory are fueled by our values. We do not attempt to find principals we can stomach and then attempt to regurgitate as values so that we can win.

  • Those involved in politics are responsible for creating an environment that is more inclusive and inviting to the body they represent.

  • Disagreement, conflict and the art of the respectful back and forth are exactly what allows us to find our best selves - and therefore we need more apology, more changing our minds, more forgiveness for and from our public leaders.

  • The 60-second time limit in response to a 90-second question that was really 1 question with 3 follow ups isn’t helping anyone. We don’t need more “gotcha” guys.

I think there is a lot to talk about when we talk about politics. So, I’m going to start using this space to share some thoughts. If you’re interested, thanks for following along.