What Standard are We Letting the Politicians Set?

We need to care more about the standard we are allowing our politicians to set for our society. When we allow them to make hateful, bigoted, ill-informed comments, we give everyone else free reign to do it too.

We often think it’s only our actions that create our environment – but inaction can have as significant an impact for all of us. I’ve recently been reminded that allowing is accepting – and given the current political environment, I thought it was worthwhile discussing.

Last week I facilitated training on Difficult Conversations – trying to help managers with those conversations none of us ever want to have. There is a line in our course material, the sentiment of which I’m sure you’ve heard in many different ways before – the standard you allow is the standard you accept! In Australia, we had a previous Chief of Army who gave a fantastic speech that included a very similar line – you can see it here.

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I think we tend to forget this in our day-to-day lives – I know I’ve allowed standards and behaviours from people I should never have accepted. I’ve also behaved in ways that other people shouldn’t have accepted.

But there are a range of reasons we don’t speak up and allow people to act in ways that we don’t agree with and don’t meet our standards. Some of these are:

  • Fear of the confrontation, and how the other person will react
  • You don’t think it’s your place to say something
  • Wanting to be liked, or not wanting people to think you’re uptight, precious etc.
  • Not wanting to make yourself a target
  • Thinking it’s not that important or you don’t want to make a fuss.

But the Saying is True…

When we laugh at the bigoted joke, let someone act in a way that makes us uncomfortable, let someone deliver low quality products/services, or a range of other sub-standard actions, we are tacitly agreeing. We are saying it’s okay to make fun of me or another group of people, it’s okay to ignore my boundaries, it’s okay to under-perform – we’re giving them permission to continue to do that ‘thing’ we actually find unacceptable.

When that person is a politician, we’re saying that standard is acceptable for our society, and the laws or policies that government wants to enact on our behalf.

The Problem is Pressing

With the looming US Presidential elections, you can see how problematic it is to laugh along, or simply keep quiet and walk on by. Do you think Donald Trump would act the way he does if he wasn’t surrounded by people who allowed him to do that? Yeah I know many of them are probably in self-preservation mode, not wanting to become a target, but still.

Even with Hillary Clinton, someone allowed her to use a separate email server. There was a tacit acceptance on some level, by people who probably should have argued the standards – but who’s going to argue with the Secretary of State and former First Lady?

And then we have Australian politics – where the standards are getting lower on a daily basis, and no one seems to care. Of course, there are people who aren’t allowing actions and behaviour to happen without comment, but I don’t know that we’re having any impact – largely because many politicians seem to think winning an election is tacit acceptance of EVERYTHING about them.

And of course, as a society, we long ago allowed the media to get away with saying and doing whatever they pleased, with few checks and balances. The drive to sensationalise stories, and report half truths has diluted the ‘standard’ we used to expect. Maybe it is the need to compete with online content, but regardless of the reason, we allowed them to lower their standards, and many people enjoy the outcome.

It’s a Polarising Situation

Speaking up is not an easy way to exist in the world. You constantly invite conflict and trolls if you become a voice that calls out the unacceptable – just look at the horrific comments made to women calling out poor male behaviour. I get why people don’t want to publicly take it on, and I tend to err on their side – seriously, I publish this with a great deal of trepidation about what I’m opening myself up to.

But this phrase was a timely reminder for me that by not saying anything I’m effectively saying “I’m okay with that” – and there are many times I’m not okay with that. Since My Year of TED, I do speak up more than ever before, but probably still not enough. And I’m not saying my standards are always right either, I’m sure I have the capacity to upset people with my language, sense of humour or ill-formed thoughts. But I do try to be aware, it’s part of a push to be more compassionate.

We Should Expect More From Our Leaders

Because all of this is more important if you are a leader. The culture of your organisation or group is not only formed from the behaviour you model and endorse – it is equally created by the standards you are tacitly accepting. Why do you think the Trump supporters love him? He’s giving them permission to sink to his standard – to make a push to recover their white (largely male) privilege; to be bigoted and angry; and to rail against everything that scares them.

We saw it in Brexit, as the UKIP leaders lowered the standards and many Britons rushed to the bottom to meet them. We’re seeing it here in Australia with the election of three One Nation senators (among others) and the popular desire to drive that narrow-minded, fear fueled discourse back into our society – giving groups like Reclaim Australia a legitimate voice.

And it’s difficult, because we should allow a public debate on our standards and what is acceptable for our country. But that debate should not happen as a bigoted free-for-all where people get to lie about the facts and are never held accountable for the standards they create.

Select Your Standard America

So American friends, as you head to the polls on Tuesday, think about the standard you are willing to accept! Don’t get me wrong, your choices are not wonderful, you really are selecting the lesser of two evils here.

But are you willing to accept Trump’s standards as a human being who has enjoyed every second of catering to the lowest common denominator and reducing the standard of public debate and discourse? By electing Donald Trump, you are accepting a standard for your President that you shouldn’t accept in any aspect of your life – a mindless bully who speaks without thinking of the implications and belittles the people with actual knowledge and expertise.

Surely that’s not the President you want? Because it’s certainly not the one we want for you.

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