Politics, the Art

It starts with conversation...

It starts with conversation...

I’ve tried to stay away from the topic. I really have. Yes, this presidential selection and election circus has been screaming for comment, but there are plenty who are weighing in with strongly worded positions, so I’ve held back. But, darn it! The circus is infecting otherwise rational reasonable humans.

Even the Minnesota legislature managed to adjourn this week without accomplishing the primary goals of this year’s meeting – to provide bonding for needed public works projects in the state. Lest you forget, this is the state that famously had a huge bridge that collapsed during rush hour. You would think our legislators would understand through experience that keeping bridges and roads in good repair is a smart investment in prevention. And it wasn’t about money, really, since there is a surplus in Minnesota’s budget.

It’s an embarrassment that would be seen as an epic fail in any other venue, yet is somehow waved away as “just politics” in our current environment.  And there’s the core of the issue.

“Politics” has become a dirty word.  It’s right up there with the “F” word and the “S” word.

We shouldn’t be surprised as so many public figures vilify the word whenever given the opportunity. Politics, sex and religion are the three topics polite people are taught to avoid in conversation and my mother raised me to be polite, too.

“Mary Margaret,” she said more than once. “These are things we just don’t speak of in public. It’s just not done.”

Of course, she was talking about partisan politics – the private clubs and organizations that determine who the rest of us get to vote for in public elections.

In fact, she was quite political in the way of small “p” politics, which was, to her, the art of getting things done for the public good, as she saw it. She wrote letters to the local newspaper decrying various public policies she saw as holding back progress or infringing on individual enterprise.

She agitated at neighborhood gatherings about wayward dogs, unkempt lawns, or loud households. And she always had a solution ready because that’s how she believed things got done in a community. To her, it was about people of good intention working together, even arguing over different solutions, to end up in a better place. And she was quick to recognize that her viewpoint didn’t always win over others – but she taught us that not engaging was not an option.

So I’m engaging to bring back the importance and value of engaging in politics as the art of accomplishing good. In our messy experiment of a democracy, it’s important that people of good intent practice the art of engaging in difficult discussions with underlying respect for the value of disagreement. Disagreeing on important issues doesn’t mean one side is evil and the other all good. It means we each bring different experiences, perspectives, and perhaps values, to the table. But the discussion itself is where we learn to navigate, negotiate, yes, influence, but ultimately come to somewhat imperfect but workable agreements.

We need public investment in Minnesota roads and bridges. Everyone in this northern state of temperature extremes agrees on that. So engaging in the difficult discussion of how to accomplish that investment should have been possible in the legislative session that is now adjourned.

I propose training sessions in the art of politics, or the art of discussion, disagreement, and then resolution that takes place far from the glare of media where yelling and extremes sell advertising. I think I’ll start on our porch this summer. It’s a small venue, but one where we can practice before moving into this fall’s election.