Some popular sentiments are so commonly expressed that it is often too easy to just repeat them without considering the extended impact. This is how I feel when I see a Facebook post, a blog comment, or a comment in the stream of a news story regarding the perceived lack of respect for all politicians.
First, let me start by saying that skepticism for the mainstream political establishment is fair, healthy, and warranted. We should all want the best people with the right intentions representing our best interests. Often, we should and do disagree on what our best interests are — but that’s open democracy. What we should desire are political leaders that fight for those best interests with thoughtfulness and integrity. Our skepticism comes from very public examples where that example is not being illustrated.
What is missed are the countless number of people who have done the good work of the people but aren’t in the public eye. The countless number of people who work today for those they represent in states, counties, Congressional or Statehouse districts, and on down to village ward council members. Some have public name recognition, but most are known only to the small segment of people they represent. The overwhelming majority seek out those roles because they care enough about their communities to put themselves out there.
There should be a difference between holding our elected leaders up to a high standard, and simply trashing them all because some have been engaged in dishonest, unethical, or selfish activities. It is a real problem when we elect people to represent us and they use that role to benefit their own interests. What we should avoid is painting an entire profession with the same brush and deciding for ourselves that anyone holding an elected post is inherently a crook, a puppet, or anything less than an actual human being. What we should do is encourage good people to get involved and pay more attention instead of less. Cynically throwing our hands up in frustration is easy, but the resulting apathy only allows the pervasive cycle to continue where the lowest common denominator of public servants keep their jobs.
I admit that there is a personal motivation behind this post. I have friends who are good public servants and truly believe in the work they do and care about the people and communities they serve. Although I can’t say for sure that my future will include an elected office, my ambitions include public service in some way. It is not because I want to be some famed politician or historic statesman. It is because my past has given me the experience and the drive to do for others. I am choosing that direction knowing what the public sentiment is. All others have done the same.
Next time you are tempted to exclaim how they’re all crooks, they’re good-for-nothing, or they don’t give a damn about average people, stop yourself and consider if you are doing more harm than good by expressing such hostile terms for an entire group of people. Most are or have been average citizens at one time, and chose to get involved because they did indeed give a damn. Again, it is easy to get frustrated and only see through a single lens because the worst examples do tend to get the most attention. However, choosing to seek the path of public service is just that, a path of service to the public. How many good people will continue pursuing that path if it means being devalued as a human being by the people they wish to serve?