POLITICIANS ARE LOUSY COPING MODELS, PART 2

OK, in Part 1 we saw how our politicians are just a bundle of defense mechanisms. They can get away with it, I guess, given their jobs. Blame the other side and then proceed to act in precisely the way you’re criticizing. That kind of behavior will no doubt get them re-elected. But for us, habitually blaming others for our difficulties, or using some of the other defenses we noted, is a terrible way to cope effectively with the challenges of everyday life.

Why do so many politicians take the defensive road? I’m sure our congressional Representatives and Senators are patriotic Americans. They also seem to understand that as members of the Legislative branch of our government, co-equal to the Executive and Judicial branches, it is incumbent on them to treat each other with respect and civility, even when they disagree on issues. To top it off, they are bright, educated, and fairly well-to-do.

Why, then, do they submit to the hazards of ineffective coping? Why, for instance, do they have such a hard time compromising? Why do they often support proposals they really don’t accept? Isn’t that hypocritical? Why do they seem to favor partisan issues over their own principles and values? Why does anyone do such things? One answer to those questions is, “To avoid facing anxieties and fears.”

What might our legislators be afraid of? Well, how about getting re-elected! That fear is particularly acute for Representatives who go through the cycle every two years. But, you ask, “Why would such educated people, who can easily find other and probably more lucrative work, worry so much about being re-elected?” Good question.

Could the answer be that politicians define themselves by their position? The accolades, respect, and admiration that come to nationally-serving folks can easily go to their head. They succumb to a dangerous temptation of concluding, “I am a United States Representative who happens to be [an attorney, an entrepreneur, a former CEO, a war veteran, etc.]”

A more modest and grounded identity would be along the lines of, “I am [an attorney, an entrepreneur, a former CEO, a war veteran, etc.] who happens to be a United States Representative.” There is a world of difference between the two identities. Are you first and foremost an elected politician, or are you first and foremost a spouse, parent, physician, entrepreneur who decided to give politics a whirl? If the former, your whole world will revolve around staying in office.

I remember serving on a college faculty panel as part of Parents Day activities. We were there to answer questions about academic life at the College. I was a youngster, mid-thirties, and was seated next to a far more experienced and learned colleague from the history department. I’ll never forget how he introduced himself: “Hello, I’m [name] from the history department. But I don’t teach history; I teach your sons and daughters.”  It took me many years to understand that he had discovered the secret that made him such an effective teacher: He defined himself appropriately, not as a teacher of history but as a teacher of life who used history as his instructional vehicle.

So what coping lessons can we take from all this? Number one, be careful how you define yourself! Your self-definition determines those things you see as under your control. If your definition is faulty, you will try in vain to control things you can’t, and then you’re living in a fantasy world. Second, stop making excuses for your actions. Take responsibility. Live in the present and don’t use past events to explain yourself to others. So you have it tough? Who doesn’t?

Finally, make your words and actions consistent. (More about that in an upcoming blog.) Don’t play “mind games” with yourself and others. You’re not here to live by others’ expectations! Determine your values, speak to them, and let your actions be guided by them. Doing so will help you treat others with respect and courtesy, and you will more likely receive the same in return. Being in touch with and honest about your inner self — now isn’t that what a good coping life should be all about? Unfortunately, however, while you may cope nicely you will probably not get elected to Congress. Sorry about that.

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