Friday, January 10, 2014

Caricatures cannot lead, and simplicities do not tell the truth....and we need truth-telling leaders!

One of the many themes (or memes) emerging from the Chris Christie boondoggle, or "bridgegate" as it is coming to be known is that, whereas he had a public reputation as a hands-on manager, he is, in fact, a hands-off manager who, by his own words "delegates" much to both staff and politicians in the legislature and in the New Jersey cabinet.
The "appearance vs. reality" theme is one that plagues every human being, especially in a world of "instant first impressions" that reduce every "object"(human being) of such impressions to what amounts to a caricature (that instantly become reputations). The world is flooded with public figures, and private individuals who seek the public limelight, when professional coaches remind their clients that there is only one "first 30 seconds" in any encounter, and everyone taking in those first 30 seconds, probably the only 30 seconds that will matter in the way in which the individuals in the public form their opinion of that public figure. Christie's public "image" as a friendly-open-honest-straight-talking-no-holds-barred leader was only "enhanced"  when Christie planted a "bear hug" on Obama on the "Jersey shore" immediately after hurricane Sandy, when the state was begging for federal funds and Obama was fawning for Jew Jersey votes.
Many Republican colleagues condemned the "hug" as an endorsement of Obama while Romney struggled with his "47% dependents" comment, and there are some who even accuse Christie of helping to elect Obama.
Obama, too suffers from an initial impression as a liberal reformer, whose public image in both 2008 and 2012 appealed to younger voters most of whom had refrained from voting in previous elections; yet after five years of an Obama administration, the liberal reformer "image" has withered on the vine of  a Republican congressional bowel obstruction and the president seems to many of that demographic that helped elect him, to be like all the other politicians.
Christie, too, has fallen from a pedestal in the public mind, to being "just like all the other politicians in Washington" (as Chuck Todd put it today on the Daily Rundown on MSNBC).
Simplified, even reductionistic images, used to replace full disclosure and full development of a character is common fare in most movie and television dramas, and those that actually "flesh out" a developmental, transforming and multidimensional character are so rare as to garner critical acclaim.
Politicians, like many of the roles in television dramas and movies, however, are not permitted by their "audience," especially their adoring fan base, to show more than one side, particularly the "nice side" because that would make them too complicated and their "base" too confused to manage the many dimensions.
There are currently stories, based on Secretary of Defence Robert Gates' memoir, that criticise both Hillary Clinton and President Obama for playing politics in their "staked-out" positions on Iraq when they were public enemies number one for each other, both seeking the nomination of the Democratic party. So add to the reductionisms that the public impose on their public figures, the public's refusal to permit a evolving position, or a change of opinion in the mind and public statements of their leaders, because such a change can only, it seems, be interpreted as a reason to stop trusting the flexible and resilient mind, changing with new information and new responsibilities.
Caricature cut-outs, limited to a single snap-shot of a public reputation, captured in the minds of an electorate and many supervisors, who too are uninterested in getting to know the people they are paid to assess, or, as voters, judge as potential public leaders, are not the basis of a sound democratic governance.
Add to both of these impediments(caricatures and snap-shot images), a message-bearer (the media) that seeks more to establish both personal/professional reputations and "ratings" that generate advertising dollars, and you have a stew of non-nutritional glue that cannot but stop the process of democratic debate and dialogue, and eventually the "sausage" of health, nation-benefiting legislation.
Information management, the core of the reporter's job, involves digging beyond the "anecdote" and beyond the cut-out, and delivering the complexities of all of those currently in the public spotlight, and their editors have to demand, through assigning specific scribes to the "beat of the character" not merely the ideological buttons s/he might be wearing (another of the tragic reductionisms in which to entrap the public figure, while simultaneously misleading the electorate, as well as the advertiser.
Biographies, details of early childhoods, including the individual's relationships with neighbours and friends, as well as family, while seeming to be the exclusive fodder of "People" magazines and the like (the Drudge Report, for example)...these are not incidental non-starters in the portrayal of a public figure's potential, and the likelihood of his/her having a complexity that demonstrates s/he cannot "fit" into a stereotypical "box" that makes it easy to "sell" or to "buy" his reliability, his trustworthiness, or his capacity to lead.
I have worked for too many "cardboard cut-outs" whose public image, while platinum, was deeply undercut by their underlying vacuity, their profound insecurity and their capacity to "schmooze" the people on whom they would have to rely in order to climb the ladder of "success" to which they are all addicted. In fact, playing the game, "as the man in the grey suit" portrayal of the 1950's, continues as the requisite skill in most political appointments, regardless of the intellectual, creative or courageous capacity of the candidates. Many candidates with demonstrated originality, creativity and resourcefulness are denied access to the corridors of power, having those attributes trumped by the candidates who "played the game" as it was designed by those in power, depending primarily on the candidates' willingness to acknowledge and obey the "rules" mostly unwritten, so that, after an appointment, they can and will be "trusted" to preserve the "tradition" of conformity that seeks image over authenticity.
And we wonder why our politics is so replete with "rust holes" in the formerly shiny chrome image of our leaders!
We are individually and collectively participating in a game that is designed to sabotage itself unless and until we confront our authentic, historic and enduring need for truth-telling, for authentic "bringing truth-to-power" in all leaders of both public and private organizations, including schools, colleges, universities, and all forms of over political power, as well as corporations and non-profits, especially churches, where, in my experience, the sycophant is most desired and most required, ironic as that is, given the extremely confronting truth-telling component of the clerical profession.
Neither bishops nor laity want to hear the truth, unless it is so varnished as to be literally indecipherable because it is so hidden in the sugar of its delivery.
Little wonder that considerable research is going on in the medical/pharma world into the plasticity of the brain, given that we have rendered millions into plastic reductions of their exciting, and much less easily manageable complexity, simply to reduce the need for imaginative, creative and courageous leaders, thereby perpetuating a self-defeating, self-eroding culture. Is this not another manifestation of our collective dependence on oil from which all things plastic come?

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