15 April 2009

On Politicians and Listening

Friend Daphne wrote a post earlier today on her reflections of a political meeting we attended last evening.

Both cynics, we were pleasantly surprised by what we heard - or rather, what we didn't hear.

We didn't hear the speaker claim that he and his party had all the answers, that solutions proposed by individuals and community groups were naive or bad ideas since they weren't in sync with solutions the party thinks are better for us, that when he goes knocking on doors it's chiefly to tell the people he meets what he and his party is about, that a vote for anyone but him will be a wasted vote....

When this man was finished telling us a bit about himself and what he'd been up to lately - it was his campaign kickoff, after all - he turned the evening over to the rest of us. And then he listened.

That's what was so refreshing, and I've experienced this too few times with politicians and political wannabes.

In fact, it's been an exercise in frustration to be occasionally invited to participate in events, at which I thought I was expected to point out the problems I see and their solutions, only to be ignored the moment I mentioned solutions which run counter to that representative's party interests. Then the ears got turned off and the attention behind the eyes went elsewhere.

With such politicians - and they're in the majority - one gets heard only when one agrees with them. Which makes the entire exercise pointless and terribly disillusioning. On leaving such events, I've always felt exploited and used and a sick feeling has lingered for days afterward.

Thing is, there shouldn't be such need of citizens to be heard by politicians in order to get problems addressed if the most political power rested with citizens and their communities, not with upper-tier governments. As I've argued before, we need to turn the power pyramid upside down.

Politics and government shouldn't be about imposing on communities one-size-fits-all policies, programs and solutions. They should be about creating an environment that enables communities to build on their own strengths, which includes full citizen engagement. They should be about encouraging empowerment from the ground up.

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