I saw a Twitter message today that got me thinking. The tweet went along the lines of that if your kid wanted to be a politician you must do everything in your power to dissuade them. You should bribe them out of it if necessary. I can understand where the writer is coming from. Politics is a rough world. It’s a place where lofty ideals often tarnish and shatter in the rough and tumble of power games, bargaining and compromise. The bruising experience of politics leaves many people disillusioned and cynical. It shouldn’t be like this, but it is.
Nevertheless we must pause to consider where we are. We have schools. We have hospitals. We have fire stations and a police force. We eat food and drink water that, most of the time, won’t make us sick. We have rights. We can go to court to protect those rights. We have the right of assembly, press freedom and an electoral system where the powerful have to submit themselves to the wrath of the people who put them there every few years.
We have abolished slavery. We no longer have capital punishment or corporal punishment. Torture, child labour and animal abuse are proscribed. The voices of women, children, homosexuals, immigrants, atheists, the poor and other marginalised people can no longer be ignored. The society we have today is in many, many respects better than the world our grandparents and their grandparents were born into.
And who, in the end, made it happen? Politicians.
It was politicians who gave people their rights to be heard. It was politicians who argued for child welfare and against slavery. It was politicians who faced tyrannies down and protected our democratic freedoms. It was politicians who wrote the reforms, signed the laws and brought and end to wars. Our society is what it is today because of the work of politicians from our past.
Not all politicians are perfect. Some, indeed, have set back the march of progress and greater freedoms. Many others have little to show for their years of service other than a fat bank account. Yet, some politicians have made a positive difference and those differences have created the society that we have today. The story presented is not an altogether gloomy one.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Society is far from perfect. We still have crime, war, bad health, unnecessary suffering, discrimination, hatred, environmental damage and unconscionable injustice. We have problems in our country that are crying out to be solved. These problems require people of vision. They require people who can look beyond the grubby compromises and roadblocks. They require people who are willing to dedicate their lives to an ideal, mindful that failure awaits at every turn.
In politics, it is not years that make the difference, but decades. We need a cadre of people who are willing to dedicate their lives for a vision. Despite our concerns and our cynicism, we should encourage the most motivated of the upcoming generation to become politicians.