Discerning Politically

May 12, 2013 | Field Notes

Here on the beautiful west coast of Canada we are fast approaching the day of the British Columbia provincial election during which citizens of this province will choose the political leaders they hope will be able to provide direction for the next few years. The opportunity to freely exercise our democratic right to elect representatives is one for which many people around our world still long. Consequently, it is important that I use this gift wisely.

As I discern the different platforms of the various political parties I find it helpful to remember two things that I have found to be important regarding political life in Canada. First, I remember the preferential option for the poor and the marginalized. This involves remembering those who are most marginalized economically within our society as well as the needs of our endangered environment. How do the policies put forth by each party address the needs of these important parts of creation? The more those who are poor and marginalized and our good earth are brought to the center of our political decisions the more humane and sustainable our world will become.

Second, I remember that political action needs to be focused on the immediate future, not the distant future. That is, political actions that have real impact in the present take precedent over those that hold the possibility for impact in some distant future. So, I ask myself, will those who are poor be better off, soon? Will we take the necessary steps to live sustainably on this good earth, soon?

These two criterion, the preferential option for the poor and the marginalized and the need for present action, help me in my discerning which political party to support. Obviously, these are not the only criterion for my political discernment. I also study the historical record of the political parties as well as the capacity of the parties to carry out their proposed platforms.

Moreover, I also look at the leaders who have put themselves forward to serve the public. To be a politician is an honorable profession, although it has been much maligned in recent years, sometimes justifiably. Still, we need good people to put themselves forward and to be willing to serve the common good. In this area I follow the advice of Plato who argued “That city in which the destined rulers are least eager to rule, will inevitably be governed in the best and least factious manner and a contrary result will ensue if the rulers are of a contrary disposition.” Hence, I look less at skills and accomplishments than I do at attitude and the ability to be self-conscious. The more a person is aware of their limits and carries the humility of a servant, the more likely I am to support them. This helps me to decide on who to support in my local riding candidate as well at the level of party leadership. For me, a servant attitude trumps almost everything.

Politics is often labeled negatively. It has been called a blood sport, a den of thieves, a hopeless enterprise. It is unfortunate that this negative view of politics continues to have such sway in our country. To counter this negativity, I choose to focus on the positive. We need our political systems to accomplish together what we cannot accomplish alone. This is all the more the case in our complex society. We also need humble, conscious leaders who are willing to serve the public as politicians.

Politics is about pursuing the art of creative possibilities for the common good of all. As an art, it is often messy and requires discernment. But, like much art, politics can inspire us to do more and to be more, for our good and the good of all.

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