What About Negative Politics?

I read an interesting post today from the Passion, People, and Principles blog by David Maister: “Are We Too Negative“?

Just to give you a flavour of what he had to say, here are some snippets:


“I don’t think it’s me alone that’s doing this. When you go visit other blogs, you see lots of criticism, complaints, cynicism and skepticism. You only see a very little praise and celebration of successes, triumphs and things done right. For every blog post or comment illustrating excellence, creativity, trustworthiness or professionalism, there are multiples bemoaning the lack of these things.

Quite honestly, I’m getting a little depressed by my – our? – negative tone.


But somehow I’ve drifted here on this blog, and so have many of you. Actually, it’s largely true of the blogosphere in general – more blogs are iconoclastic in the true sense of that word – ‘tearing down’ the powerful or prominent – and very proportionately fewer are about building up useful knowledge, ideas, tips, insights.”

I had several thoughts in response to his post, especially as I relate them to “negative” politics and campaigning:

First, I agree with his impressions, but I do feel it’s not just the blogosphere – we see it everywhere and politics is a prime example.

People seem to be more and more sharing negatives about politicians, political systems, political processes, etc. Like David, they also seem to be more and more fed up with all the negativity.

Interestingly, we know from Positive Psychology research that the more people focus on negatives, the worse they feel. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle we need to deliberately break out of. (No wonder David’s starting to feel depressed! ;-))

On the other hand, we also know from research that feeling positive (authentically positive, not Pollyanna-ish) has a huge number of benefits: increased happiness and life satisfaction, enhanced productivity, better health, more efficient problem-solving, more creativity, more satisfying relationships, etc……

So let’s look at the questions David posted on his blog: (1) what is pushing this negativity and (2) why is it happening?

I think the “what” is a bit of a trick question.

In part, we get negativity fed to us through our media — not just blogs, but all sorts of media. What is it the newspaper folk say?: Bad news sells. We pay attention when things go wrong, so our media folk give us what we seem to want. Then we talk between ourselves about what isn’t right, what needs changing, how awful something is — we pay attention to the negative, so they give us more the next day.

BUT — we would need to do an analysis of the blogsphere, newspaper content, and other media to really see if the negative levels are an increasingly large percentage of what we digest. I suspect that, in part, we are simply more aware of the negative, because, like David, we are getting tired of hearing it, tired of producing it, and sick and tired (literally!) of being in a negative place.

It doesn’t FEEL good to be negative. So, like someone who is unhappy in their relationship, we’ve started noticing everything “wrong” with the partner we have. (And remember the cycle: reading and listening to negativity makes us feel more negative which leads us to notice more negativity which leads to feeling more negative…I think you get it.)

Applied to politics, we get negative campaigning because it “works”. People listen to the information and think twice about the subject of the negativity.

But it also backfires.

People are tired of negative campaigns, have negative opinions of negative politicians (even if they manage to convince people that the Other is even worse), and are becoming apathetic rather than stay involved and continue to feel bad about it.

And if politicans (since they can’t be happy being negative, either — they’re human too!) would listen to the “complaints about complaining” that David highlights as the paradox of the problem, they could start to help create a turnaround — a new way of doing politics that keeps the positives in the lead.

What would this mean?…

1) Politicians would feel better about what they do, who they do it with, and about themselves.

2) Happier politicians would focus on creating and maintaining a happier world (or at least their own bit of it ;-)).

3) Voters/constituents would feel better about politics and politicians.

4) Voters/constituents would get more constructively involved with the political process.

5) Collaboration between all stakeholders would be easier and produce better results.

6) More positive voters/constituents would contribute to politicians feeling more positive about themselves, their roles, and their co-politicians.

Thus, we would see a new, positive, cycle emerging.

Strike you as too idealistic?

Think about the folks who have had the greatest impact on helping to create a better world.

Who are the leaders you most look up to?

Who generate passion from just about everyone?

It’s not done through the negative (although the negative can help point us to what needs to be different). It’s the visionaries, the leaders who inspire us and move us toward a vision of something desirable, something to hope for, something to yearn for.

I love this quote from Karen Berzanski of K-Turn Productions:

“We are not fighting against systems that aren’t working; we are forming new ideas and projects that we hope will naturally and organically become the norm.”

Not fighting against, but working for. Quite a difference.

Afraid it can’t be done? I’ve listed three resources that are doing the Positive Thing, one in the media, one youth organization, one book from the political world.

So I’ll end with a couple questions of my own:

  • Who are the “politicians” (use your own definition) you most look up to?
  • What other resources can you share about how people are seeking positive change?

I’ll create a page to share the positives we are finding.

Here are my opening entries:

Politics of Hope by Donna Zajonc

Ode Magazine

Yes!: Helping Visionary Young Leaders Build a Better World


6 Responses

  1. I agree we are definitely in need of a new more positive way of doing politics. The time has come for us to return politics to the people and away from special interest. When we can elect people for their values and know they will live by them then we have turned things in a positive direction. We also must seek leaders that can think with the future in mind, who can be conscious enough to be aware of what is needed and what would be for the greater good. We all need to show up as active participants in the process of governing and not just leave it to those we elect. They need guidance and we need to keep informed about the issues. Qualities like wisdom, humbleness, a passion for service, truthfulness, vision, listening, problem solving and compassion are what we need to find in leaders. Maybe that next leader is you. I write about peace and bing a more conscious human being on my blog wwwexplorelifeblog.com check out my Another Viewpoint section which is more political. Joseph

  2. Joseph:

    Thanks so much for your comment – we are clearly on the same page.

    The next leader you describe is unlikely to be me — but I do provide coaching and the application of technology to try to support the courageous folks who are interested in stepping forward to make a difference.

    To live the qualities you list is challenging in any field — I find it is even more so in the political sphere. I work especially with women, who are all too often scorned for their attempts to do politics differently and told that “reality” isn’t conducive to this kind of openness, authenticity, and transparent agendas. Yet is only through those willing to create change that a new and different “reality” can be forged, isn’t it?

    They need to know that we are behind them and beside them and that they aren’t trying to do this all alone.


  3. Hey Karen,

    This is a really great post, and I enjoyed reading it very much :-). I wonder, though, if there isn’t something else there beyond negativity building on negativity (and the easier approach of being negative). It seems like as there’s so much more information, so many more politicians, so many more blogs… We need to categorize things much more quickly, and we seem to be putting them into very extreme categories (“absolute success” vs. “utter failure”). There’s very little in between.

    So, for a woman politician who’s trying to be authentic and open and transparent, if she fails in her campaign, that’s seen as a huge failure–even though at least half of all the people running for office have to lose (unless there’s no opponent, of course). Her loss doesn’t necessarily mean her campaign had faults, and it doesn’t necessarily mean there were any flaws in her platform or in her ability to lead. It just means more people picked the other person.

    And with that, I have veered way off topic–sorry about that!–but you’ve given me much to think about in this post, and I really appreciate that.

    All my best,

  4. Thanks so much, Jes!

    I agree that there is more than “just” the negativity cycle.

    But I’m not convinced that it’s “just” an information overload issue either. I think our media or our styles of media consumption or both “train” us to make this kind of extreme “winner-loser” categorization. That’s even the language of elections: they’re about a “race”, sometimes with “dark horses”, it’s all about the “count”, etc., etc. And I think it’s up to us to be more discriminating, to create different ways of processing and sharing what we experience.

    This is also exactly why I think coaching for women in politics is so important. I think she needs someone behind her to help her to process for herself, at a minimum first, that she didn’t “lose”, she gained all sorts of experience and information and ideas and she contributed to the debate. If she believes this for herself, she can also be part of communicating that to others by her words and more meaningfully, by her way of presenting herself and talking about her campaign.

    So, you can see — you weren’t off-topic at all! You were very much on-topic and I thank you for sharing your thoughts!


  5. I do accept as true with all of the concepts you have offered in your post. They’re really convincing and will definitely work. Still, the posts are very brief for beginners. May you please extend them a little from next time? Thanks for the post.

  6. I really like and appreciate your blog post.Thanks Again.

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