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When our politicians make terrible decisions, when we struggle to comprehend their seemingly illogical or irrational support for certain causes, we often ask the wrong question.

  • Why do they want to destroy the environment?
  • Why do they want to take away healthcare?
  • Why are they so intent on supporting a private coal mine?
  • Why are they channeling public money into private education when public schools are suffering?

We see this constantly across all the media forms.

These questions are distracting and unhelping if we want to really zero in on the core challenges. They are, of course, great for stirring up outrage, polarising votes in simplistic ways, and attracting clicks.

Politicians are humans (just.) I believe that most of them do not wake up in the morning intending to do evil. And like most of us, most probably believe their intentions to be fundamentally good and honourable (yes, I know, bear with me here.) And that they are doing the “right” thing.

What we are not asking and examining with greater scrutiny are the base human drivers. Ego, greed, and fear seem to be primary ones.

  • They are seeking quick, short-term, and easy solutions to employment to secure their voter-base; at the expense of long term sustainability.
  • They are taking petty revenge against a nemesis predecessor who put in the healthcare plan.
  • They are securing influence and currying favour with a rich and powerful businessman, leading to future personal employment opportunities.
  • Their wealthy and powerful friends and sponsors have children in private schools; and one good turn always buys another…

Politicians are motivated by the same drivers we all have. In the rarified atmosphere of government, they are disconnected from the everyday realities the rest of us live in. They are inevitably deluded with the heady mix of power and entitlement. And of course, like the rest of us, their default view is shortsighted.

When we ask the wrong question, we usually end up solving the wrong problem. We look for convoluted hidden agendas and secret machinations; when the reality is that we have a system that enables people to be more often ruled by their base nature than not. And unfortunately these very people are in a position to do significant and long-lasting damage.

Put another way, politicians do what they do because of the basic human drivers of greed, ego, and selfish interest.

The questions we should be asking are:

  • What is truly driving them to do what they do?
  • How can we better select against personalities that are less able to temper their base natures?
  • How can we not reward, or actively punish, bad behaviours?
  • How do we demand better of our leaders, that they rise above their base human nature?
  • How do we attract people with vision, integrity and real leadership into these important positions?

I am not holding my breath of course. The systems seen so entrenched, there is so much inertia, that politicians are starting to realise that they can do just about anything, in the public eye no less, and get away with it.