Often people lament about why there are no decent people in politics. There is also a very quiet and constant message that I (and I suspect other politicians) hear, which is: “I’m sure glad you are doing it — I would never have the courage or skin thick enough to do it.”
And perhaps there is a connection between the concern that not enough good people get involved — or stay involved — in politics, and the perception that to do it you have to have incredibly thick skin and put up with all kinds of abuse.
Why is it that some people (and I am the first admit it is a very small percentage of the population) feel it is necessary to personally attack politicians? And the attacks are never about the issues, but are instead anger directed at the politician or criticism of their personal life or any other seemingly unrelated method of trying to beat or shame someone into submission.
Having been a politician now for nearly 13 years, perhaps I should have thicker skin, but in the last few weeks there have been a number of incidents that have left me shaking my head. Everything from the false accusations of secret meetings and generally paranoid and negative tone regarding proposed changes to the OCP (mostly coming from people who don’t live in Invermere), to having a lady come to my house and yell at me about the lack of street sweeping on main street in February and how it was going to destroy the IPC parade that day (the organizers were delighted by the efforts made by the town and the event went very well), to walking my dog and being sworn at and generally verbally abused by a fellow opposed to the deer cull (being told I have no right to walk on public property near his house).
I also realize these examples are not even that extreme and had an issue at their root, but became more personal in the method of delivery.
Perhaps it is naive, but if the public and private discourse was more about issues and less about personal attacks, and if folks made an appointment and waited a few days until they were calm before giving a politician a piece of their mind, then maybe having super thick skin and not caring about what people think wouldn’t be a job requirement for politicians.
And I think our communities, our provinces and our country would be better off if this were the case.
It may seem pretty simplistic: if you have concerns about something or want to be effective in persuading someone with your point of view, and if you do it in an informed and polite way, well, you’re more likely to catch more politicians with honey.
And I know what you are going to say next, that hopefully you don’t catch them with their paw in the honey jar… which, I think, is something we all hope for and can best be achieved by removing the “thick skin” requirement from the politician job and open up the world of politics to a whole new segment of the population — having new folks involved could decrease the general cynicism and increase voter turn-out.
The first step to all of this… if you see a local politician walking their dog, try not to swear at them. If you have nothing good to say, don’t say anything. This even applies to anonymous online commenting, Facebook and jeers(ing) those silly people who like to wear pyjamas in public.
Gerry Taft is mayor of the District of Invermere and a Regional District of East Kootenay director for the Columbia Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.