Ever wonder how a politician could possibly know everything? Can it be omnipresence? When I was younger I just was in awe at how politicians could answer all the questions being asked of them, how they must have amazing memories but also a voracious appetite for information. To me that put a politician in a special breed of humans, one that I knew I couldn’t possibly be part of because my ability to remember things was near zilch (though my ability to take complex things and break them down was pretty awesome).
Then came President Bush, the second, and the whole notion of politicians knowing everything was squashed, but also a new reality dawned on me, maybe politicians were amazing BS spitters, like me. Whats fascinating though is that we have made politicians this way.
Politicians are the special breed of animals they are because of our expectations of them. Imagine if a natural disaster happens and a politicians responds to a reporters answer that “they don’t know”. A slew of follow up questions follow. The storm builds if its found that the politician not only doesn’t know but has no idea how to find out the answer to the question.
In that way I feel the old saying about how politicians are a reflection of the society is so apt. Not only does our society expect that from politicians but it rewards, cheers on in fact, those who vigorously push a partisan idea. This same behavior is dispersed throughout society from academia to boardrooms. There simply is no way to gracefully say that “I don’t know the answer” or that “there are places where your point seems plausible.”
I find this all incredibly relevant today as I sit back to read, listen and watch a Congressionally manufactured economic crisis called the fiscal cliff.
Our politics is so messed up that our politicians, in order to accomplish something meaningful for the country, have to manufacture crisis that could plunge the country into deeper trouble then were they able to put aside their egos and partisan pet ideology to comprise a solution that is for the greater good of the American people.
I am reminded of Islamic history, in particular an incident with Imam Malik, where a man travelled a long distance to ask him about a particular hadith. Imam Malik was a scholar of scholars, the very fountain of the knowledge that held the faithful together. When this man asked his question, Imam Malik simply said “I don’t know.”
Can you imagine in a time where transportation wasn’t easy being told by the greatest scholar at the time that he doesnt know the answer to your question. You traveled there not for business, let alone pleasure, but to get answers to a list of questions and are told that there were no answers. I once heard a khateebh, don’t remember who to attribute the quote to, say that saying “I don’t know” was half the process of gaining knowledge.
In the end I don’t think our politicians will change anytime soon. However, I am a firm believer in change starting with ourselves. When we change, those around us notice and respond accordingly. What we can practice in our lives is to be careful in making statements because we will be held accountable for them, and to hold ourselves accountable when we do speak. Granted my perspective of politicians is a bit generalized and there are politicians that will say they don’t have the answers but will get them, however, there are too few of those around these days. Therefore, being an activist is not just about going out to stomp the ground for positive change, rather, its also about being a force of change within yourself. I believe that being a progressive requires this type of change.
Picture is from Allison Nazarian’s blog, in particular this post about realizing the power of saying “I don’t know.”