Over the past three months I’ve had the good (?) fortune to spend some time with world leaders. Presidents, heads of billion dollar industries and down. Access came about quite by chance; I asked one such person if I could. Okay, I wrote one such person asking if I could. A while ago, actually. Evidently my background was being checked.
And checked and checked and checked. My original thinking was that this kind of access would help both me and NextStage understand political thinking so we could evaluate it and compare it against voter thinking more accurately. As we’ve correctly predicted political outcomes in local, state and federal elections since 2004, sometimes months ahead of larger organizations1, you have to wonder what “more accurately” really means.
Basically, it means “better than before”. We’re NextStage. We’re nits about things like that.
It started with one person and, like the old shampoo commercial, that person told two friends and they told two friends and they told two friends and…
I asked one person why she agreed to give me access. Framed in her office window overlooking a busy metropolitan street, she was silhouetted by the afternoon sun as she stood behind her desk, focusing on the papers spread out there, pen in hand, perhaps deciding which to sign. A smile crossed her face, visible even in silhouette and there was a small, quiet chuckle as she lifted one paper for closer inspection. “Whatever your thoughts of us as a whole, we’re pretty smart people. We learn a lot when you study us.”
She was talking about “Digital Divisivity“. Specifically, some leaders are aware that digital divisivity is slowing things down and not helping anybody. Add that to no leaders taking the time to interact with other leaders outside of the leadership environment and you get the current worldwide industrial/governmental morass. People who once depended on their ability to quickly read (aka “size up”) their opposition have lost that skill and desperately need it back. Considering how short some of these “meetings” are, the need to communicate and be understood multidimensionally is a necessity. NextStage has been teaching such things since 1990, although we called it “cultural anthropology” back then.
But there was something more in her smile. “Anything else?”
“You’re valuable but harmless.” I had the impression that she and her peers had discussed that exact question and she was sharing the consensus opinion.
“Valuable but harmless?”
“What you do is valuable to people like me but your own rules2 stop you from doing anything to harm us. You’re valuable but harmless.”
“I could decide to break my own rules. I could betray a confidence, though. Don’t you folks do that? Constitutions, rights, charters, laws, … you don’t hold to them if you can get away with it.”
She evaluated me for a moment. It wasn’t hesitation, I could feel myself being weighed in a balance, then, “You know neuroscience, you know why you put those Principles up for the world to see. You won’t violate them.” A pause followed by a shrug as her eyes returned to the papers on her desk. “Besides, I’m a politician, you’re not.”
It’s good to know one’s position in life. I’m valued by a certain class because I have different values than members of that class. “When I’m not kissing babies, I’m stealing their lollipops,” I said. She nodded without looking at me.
So for about an hour a day I get to listen and watch the process of government, big and small, and industry ditto. Sometimes together, sometimes not.
My big takeaway has to do with ego.
I wrote in Humor
Only people with incredible egos will self-identify as being able to govern others because the definition of government is to know what is best for the majority even when that majority disagrees with or fails to recognize what is best (Georgia’s Lyman Hall supposedly said “They did not elect me to do what they think is best. They elected me to do what I think is best.”). Self-identifying as being able to lead and make decisions for others indicates a belief in some form of superiority to them.
I still believe that. The past three months has also taught me that people at the highest levels of anything must believe their decision is the best one both at the time they make it and for the foreseeable future.
I’m not writing about maniacs who get into power (although my revelation also applies to them), I’m thinking about people dedicated to the best for their country/state/municipality/society/community/… It takes a phenomenal ego (not to mention tremendous discipline) to have the best advice available from all sides, measure it against your personal experience, your learning, your education, etc., and possibly make a decision which no one will favor yet you believe in your core is the right one.
I use the term “right” advisedly. Right and wrong are moral absolutes. Even atheists in power resort to god-imagery and language when the decisions become binary (yes/no, black/white, on/off).
In Humor I wrote of ego in the negative sense. Here I write of ego in the positive sense.
My personal takeaway is that I have a different kind of respect for all people in authority. Even the ones I disagree with. Especially the ones I like as individuals while disagreeing with them.
They are making decisions they know will affect large numbers of people and believing their decisions will be the best possible for the largest number of people both now and in the future.
That’s a kind of ego I don’t want to have. Without an amazingly accurate crystal ball, anyway.