30 January, 2007

FHC: Politics 101

I was delighted that politics got a little interest. As I said in my comment earlier, I don't hate politics - I just hate losing at politics. [I don't know what I have about redeeming lost-cause words, but here I go again, trying to redeem the second least favorite word in english (behind lawyer.)] I believe politics has a bad name because it is wrongly confused with Bullying, Bureaucracy, and Manipulation.

When the strong get power or want it, they force the weak (whether by personality or position) to kowtow to their desires. Thereby the powerful grow more powerful.

When the careful get power or want it, they force the hurried to jump through hoops. Thereby they gain more control.

When the friendly get power or want it, they create the illusion of gain for the greedy. Thereby they are carried to power on the backs of others.

I contend that these are all exercises of the "might makes right" kind. They are hopeless for us Christians. If we prevail by these means, we have shamed ourselves, and the kingdom suffers.

Politics is the incredibly complex art of learning what everyone's needs are, and figuring out a way to meet them all - including your own.

The Two Great Laws of Politics
1) Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
2) Love your neighbor as yourself.


Whenever you are in a group of two or more people, you have a chance to honor God and bless those people. Coworkers, brothers, or family, there's bound to be a problem that needs an answer that works for everyone.

And no, it is not easy.

Most people, you see, hate politics. Instead, they spend their waking hours trying to defend themselves from bullying, bureaucracy and manipulation. They assume that the politician's intent toward them, your intent toward them, is evil. As you go through the political process, you will need to learn to get over, around, or otherwise behind those defenses before you can even start. You have one immensely powerful tool, though.

Anyway, the process is quite simple. It's just hard. Rather like lifting a giant rock is simple, but very hard.

The Political Process

1) Realize that every other person in the situation believes himself to be perfect.
1a) Realize that your assumption that you are perfect is as wrong as theirs.

2) Realize that everyone has a goal in mind, but that they are telling you something else. They are walling themselves behind a hedge of unreasonable demands.

3) Dig through the hedges to whatever their goal really is. Everyone's goals that is. Here is where you need that tool. The tool is listening - really intense listening. You have to keep asking questions and probing to find out what the real motivation is. If you are listening for "openings," you will not succeed at this process. You need to be listening with the two laws in mind. You are listening for what it will take to protect this person's needs and dignity. And you will have to work to convince them that this is what you are doing. But once they are convinced, the rest of the process goes pretty easy.

4) Discard your own hedge-goals, and find out what you really need.

5) Remind yourself of your essentially selfish motivation. You want what you want, and you will only get it if everyone else gets what they want first. But don't let go of what you want. You need that motivation to put up with the sewerage you might have to wade through when it comes time to convince everyone that they are not going to get shafted in the end.

6) Stew for a while. It is seldom obvious how to solve the puzzle that everyone's complex needs creates. Stew out loud. This is very important. Don't go away, and come back with a perfect solution. Nobody will go for that. Instead, put the puzzle out on the table, always being sure to express everyone's needs richly including your own. Emphasize for everyone why their needs cannot go unmet.

7) Someone will have an idea. Never, ever, ever say, "No," no matter how dumb the idea is. Work it. Throw it on the table. If the idea really is dumb, someone else will say so for you, and in the process trust will have been built. Everyone will see you are not going to embarass anyone for opening their mouths. And embarassment is the biggest killer of all progress.

8) Eventually, someone will have a good idea. You will see how it can work. Everyone will begin to see how it can work. Don't get silly here. Make sure it works for you, too. If there is anyone for whom it does not work, make sure that is acknowledged, and hopefully fixed. If not, come up with a compensation of some sort that makes them happy.

9) Make sure everyone gets a share of the credit for the final solution. You don't need any credit. You just need all these people to trust you and work with you next time you need something. So, make sure their bosses know how easy they were to work with, and how pleasantly surprised you were at how the solution "just happened like that."

It really works. Once you get in the habit, it's really that easy. Of course, there are wrinkles to talk about. What about trying to fix long-term problems? What about trying to push change through? What about dealing with actual enemies?

And this is all kind of new to me. It was in 1997 that I was kicked out of leadership in my church because I was a bully with bureaucratic tendencies. (No one ever accused me of manipulation :-) I never, ever used to listen to my "opponents." A) They were opponents to me, not allies, and B) I had too much to say. I actually believed that I was right all the time. It wasn't until I started doing this stuff that I found out, "Hey, that moron's idea was an improvement on mine. Hmmph."

There is literally not one member of my twelve person team who has not improved one of my perfect ideas (often in brutal ways, especially at first.)

Anyway. I don't know if that's interesting to anyone else, but it really is my favorite thing to be confronted with an oppositional situation and see what there is to be found. There's usually some gold out there waiting for someone with their thinking cap on.


Milly said...

I love politics. I love the game of it all. I know but I was raised in it, what’s a Milly to do? You’re right about not saying “No” people need the ownership at home, work, clubs, and church.

pearlie said...

I am saving this to read on to go as I will be leaving office right now (and I have a loooong weekend - it is our city day tomorrow and i am taking Friday off - woohoo!). This will be my first lesson in Politics 101 but the Two Great Laws of Politics being (1) Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and (2) Love your neighbor as yourself? I have to read this.

Anonymous said...

Hello Codepoke. I appreciate your attempt to redeem the word, especially since I just entered the political circle by running for City Council. Two posts ago you mentioned a fellow who sees the church as a mob. That's interesting, since an honest look at the word ecclesia and its use during and after the time of Christ often reveals that it is used to describe many different groups, from politicians in impromptu or scheduled meetings to mobs of people (see Acts 19:24-41) who gather for a common purpose. In a sense, gatherings of politicians are very much like gatherings of like-minded Christians. They are trying to accomplish something that cannot be accomplished when people work alone. Although I'm not a part of an organized Christian group right now, I have nothing against them. Although I've often had something against politicians in my life, I now find myself becoming a part of the process. Since life experience is often the most important factor in our tendency to give definitions to words, I appreciate your studied approach to this very misunderstood word. Thanks. Tom in Smalltown

karen said...

This is very interesting and speaks to life and interaction in general, not just politics. Thank you for your honesty and introspection!

Missy said...

I could say, "I wish people would attack issues this way." But it would probably be more helpful if I just do it. Codepoke, I think this is one of the wisest things I have ever had presented to me - although I must say, I am still pretty young :)

pearlie said...

To me politicking is really manipulation and easing of oneself by whatever ways and means into a desireable state or position. And therefore your definition of "positive" politicking as the incredibly complex art of learning what everyone's needs are, and figuring out a way to meet them all - including your own. in the line of Matthew 22:37-40 is refreshing. Your take on the 9-point political process if taken together with Matthew 22:37-40 would be acceptable. The difference between the 2 strains of politicking I'd say would be that one is self-centered and the other God-centered. In trying to practice politics, it would be challenging to keep it to the latter.

How then would you take this in line with "being a fool for Christ"?

Anonymous said...

Perlie, I think your observations can be applied to the polical situations found in church organizations across the land.
Tom in Smalltown

BarBarA said...

WHOA! Great post. This is a keeper for my clippings folder.

Can you imagine the world if we all lived by these "laws"?

Missy said...

Pearlie - love the wisdom you added to the wisdom i already received! I think anytime you put your needs second to anyone (especially God) the world often classifies you as a fool.

codepoke said...

It's cool that everyone liked that. Thank you.

How then would you take this in line with "being a fool for Christ"?

Great question.

I will see your "fool" and raise you another:
2 Cor 11:16 & 20 I say again, Let no man think me a fool; if otherwise, yet as a fool receive me ... Howbeit whereinsoever any is bold, (I speak foolishly,) I am bold also.

I don't think Paul was saying that he chose to be foolish, but that he clung to a cross that the world could only see as foolish.

I am squarely against being a fool for Christ, except in holding to the truth of the gospel. The gospel makes the world's wisdom foolishness, but it does not make me foolish. It makes me wise, and teaches me to love men intelligently, not just emotionally.

pearlie said...

I agree. I have been attending my church for 29 years and seen too much manipulation. My prayers is for the people to be more God-centered and to realise that we are the body of Christ.

pearlie said...

anytime you put your needs second to anyone (especially God) the world often classifies you as a fool.

So so true. I wonder how others see us when we do that (others as in unbelievers). Pearlie is just stupid. She does not know how to play the game. We don't have to worry about her.

pearlie said...

I am squarely against being a fool for Christ, except in holding to the truth of the gospel.

I see that but what Missy said is so true - in any way we put ourselves second to anybody, we will be called fools. And most of the time when we hold on to the truth of the gospel, we will be called fools. Just take loving your neighbour as yourself, one of the great laws. I see this calling one of the most difficult - both in interpreting and practising.

My interpretation - the key is how I would love myself. I will want the best for myself. When I do wrong, I can even hate myself and do what I can to correct myself. I'd take thing in moderation - eat moderately, buy only when needed even though sometime I do spoil myself. So in the same way, I should love others.

In practice - wanting the best for others. So say, if someone I know does something wrong, I should do to him what I would do to myself or when someone is in need, I would need to go to him and help as I would do to myself in the same situation ... easier said than done, obviously. And in doing so, others see us as being fools, when we jeopardise our position.

But I suppose if we like you said learn what other's needs are, figure out a way to meet them all - including your own within the great laws, i.e. loving God and thus knowing what he decrees and demands, loving others as yourself and so wanting the best for them, we may be called fools but not for long.

codepoke said...

Great additions, Missy and Pearlie both. You're right, of course, we can be called fools for sure when we put ourselves second.

Would you agree that most often, though, when we put others first they call us blessed, and wonder why we are so kind - as opposed to foolish?

Weekend Fisher said...

I loved that. I'd love to hear some stories though, how you've played your way through some tough ones so I can kind of see how it's done in practice. Hope that's not too out of line ...

codepoke said...

Hahaha. No, I think it's much better left completely theoretical. ;-)

I will have to think about this. You may or may not have noticed that I almost never tell stories about anyone but me. But when it comes to politics, that is no longer possible. And everyone who knows me knows about this blog. Do they all read it? I'm sure they do the one time I tell a story about them!

There is particular story that instantly springs to mind, because I failed, but I don't know that I can use it.

I'll sleep on it for a couple days.

Missy said...

Would you agree that most often, though, when we put others first they call us blessed, and wonder why we are so kind - as opposed to foolish?

The CALL one blessed, but then wonder - in their mind it is still a bit of foolishness.

Parents today (mothers in particuler on day-time TV!) are constantly told "you have to put yourself first." There is something to that - being responsible for your own well-being both physically and spiritually, but in the world it goes beyond that. It often borders on entitlement. This is the example I see most clearly.

I think politics battle this idea of entitlement often. "If I get what I want, you can have anything you want." Many professional politicians have spoiled the word for you because they are not at the table to develop the best for everyone. Once they get out of it what they want, they really don't care what happens next. For it to work, everyone has to stay at the "table" til the end. To the one who does not, you know he is walking away saying, "Those fools, I got what I want and I am done!"

codepoke said...

Hey Missy,

I like where you went with this. I agree, in their minds it is still foolishness. And you are right about the daytime TV. The same message is given out at work and school and everywhere.

Let me go a little longer, though, and argue with the codepoke of 1997. 10 years ago, people really avoided me. They still don't exactly flock to me, but I don't see people crossing the street when I turn the corner any more. When I was a bureaucratic bully, my life was worse.

I'm not sure you are saying this, but I always did, so I am arguing with myself here (does that mean I win?) I always thought that people thinking poorly of me was an indication of spirituality. They thought I was a fool because I was being so principled a Christian. Looking back, they thought I was a fool because I was a horrible politician. My heart has not gotten better over the last 10 years, just my skills. I don't care for people more, but two or three times better.

I solemnly affirm that the people around me are all much nicer than the people who were around me 10 years ago. I don't think that's because I'm around better people. I am sure it's because I'm better people.

That's point #1.

Point #2 is that most of them don't think me a fool.

I almost never find myself in a position where I really need to sacrifice anything for the other guy to get what he needs. And I almost never find myself in a position where the other guy has to sacrifice anything to give what I need. The issue is not sacrifice, but diligence. If I diligently pursue both our needs, I can usually find a way to make us both happy.

10 years ago I would not have thought that possible. The problem is I would have said things very much like you are saying. But that does not mean that you are making the mistakes I made then! I still had to point those mistakes out, though. When I finally read some books on the subject, 1997 or so, it was SOOOOO hard for me to believe that I could be a Christian and people like me. Once I turned that corner, though, I never looked back.

Well that's not true. Even as I write this, a sad little corner of my mind fears that I have forsaken the true path, but I will get over it. :-)

Missy said...

No, cp, I don't believe:

people think i am a fool = i am a good christian.

If people think I am a fool, there is a 99.9% chance I actually am one.

But just because people think I am a fool does means I am a bad christian.

What I was saying was along Pearlie's point of trying to reconcile my politicking with God's agenda rather than my own. (Pearlie, please tell me if I am missing your point)

"If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you." Luke 6:29-31

The verse above would suggest that I should give whatever I am asked to give. It does not say that I cannot ask for what I desire, but it does not say what I give should be conditional to getting what I desire. If you practice this you would definitely be considered foolish - by most chrisitians, too. You would have no foothold in negotiations if you simply gave into requests with no expectation of reciprocation.

However, could you imagine how effective this would be in a group of believers that actually practiced it? Just a thought.

codepoke said...

Amen, Missy!

Missy said...

What, that it is highly likey that I am a fool? :-)

pearlie said...

Pearlie, please tell me if I am missing your point

No, you didn't. That is a good way of putting it -- politicking to God's agenda. And a tough one too, at least for me :)