Saturday, August 13, 2016

We need to stop telling politicians to develop thick skins.



Two years ago I bumped into politics in a big way.  I was just minding my own business, making pretty hats, when an incorrect interpretation of a rule got in my way.   Realizing that Nova Scotia had lost many valuable people because of this same mistake, I set about trying to get it fixed.  To understand the details of this situation you can click HERE and also HERE.  It was meant to be easy,  but it became a long, complicated and often very ugly experience.
I watched politicians obfuscate, threaten, attempt to get others fired, shut down communication and ignore reason and facts.  This was by no means the sum of my experience, but it was part of it.  It was the most difficult part.

While I learned many things in the past few years about planning, the building code and the political process, I was left with a giant question that lives in my mind without an occupancy permit. Why?  Why do politicians behave this way?  What happens between the beginning, where a fresh faced person, wanting to make a difference, puts their hat in the ring,  to the point where they, too, are playing the game of politics?

I had many moments over the past couple of years where I considered running in the municipal elections.   A healthy government is a diverse government and adding my voice to the table would mean people with similar circumstances to myself would have representation.   But there was one main thing that stopped me from offering.  It seemed to be a given that in order to be a politician you needed to either have or develop a thick skin.  I neither have a thick skin, nor want one.  I wear my heart on my sleeve and that's the way I like it.

But the past couple of years have sparked a notion
that things don't have to be this way, so  I have been on the lookout for inspirational politicians who govern with grace.   Yesterday, I came across an interview with Lisa Helps, The mayor of Victoria, BC.  On that page were the words I have been looking for, the words that we need to be teaching all our potential politicians.  This is what she said, "Stay open-hearted. People say to me all the time that you must need a really thick skin to do this job, but as soon as you have thick skin, you don’t let stuff in. It means you’re closing down. And there’s a lot of shit that comes my way for sure, so [when] that comes in I say, “That is kind of irrational and makes no sense and is not based on any evidence.” All right, so that doesn’t stay. But then I get some really good feedback like, “Why are you doing it this way? How about this instead?” and that actually is important. If you’re thick-skinned and closed-hearted, you aren’t open to feedback."

And that's the problem with politics.  We keep telling potential politicians that they need thick skins, so that is exactly what we end up with- people who walk around wearing invisible armour,  people that protect themselves from the very real ugliness of public opinion and the unrealistic expectations that we have of our leaders by blocking out all feedback, good and bad.   But really we need to encourage open hearts and strong, healthy filters. So, that's my personal goal. I want to grow a thick filter.   I'll work on it for the next four years and then we'll see where life has taken me.  You can read the full interview by clicking HERE.

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