I was not surprised by the outcome of the mid-term elections. In fact, I thought that they would be closer. The real winner, from my perspective, was Caretaking.
So many people were so scared of what might happen to them, and those they care about, that they wanted to make sure that they would be taken care of, if things got even worse than they are now.
There are two fundamentally different belief systems that dominate our view of relationships. Caretaking posits a relationship in which one party takes all of the responsibility for important decisions, and removes the burden of choice for the other party, with the implicit promise that the controlling party will protect the other one from harm, struggle, and unhappiness. The underlying assumption is that the party being controlled cannot be trusted to make decisions in their own interests, and that the controlling party knows what is best for the followers. In practice, this means that the caretakers provide a minimal sustenance, shelter, and a buffer from worry and distress. The job of the followers is to accept the judgments and practices of the caretakers, and to refrain from questioning and rejecting the actions of the caretakers, in the face of behaviors that may conflict with their underlying values.
The Caring For position assumes reciprocity in the relationship. That is, both parties are committed to working toward a relationship in which they both get their needs met. This means that responsibility for decision-making resides with each individual, as well as the burden of choice. A key assumption is that both parties trust each other to make decisions in their own best interests. If there is a clash of interests, both parties are committed to working out a palatable, if not preferable resolution. Caring For people is not easy to do. It requires honesty and risk-taking, and above all else, the ability to resist taking complete responsibility for the relationship.
In business, it’s the difference between teaching someone how to do a new task, and doing it for them, hoping they’ll figure it out, through some kind of osmosis.
In politics, it’s the art of convincing people that they can have what they want, if they’re willing to surrender control over their choices and their instincts. I call it, “Domestic Colonialism,” and it is very seductive and appealing, if people are sufficiently afraid of what would happen to them, if it looks like no one will take care of them. Psychologically, it’s an infantile state, but easily accessed, by adults, if scared enough.
In the history of human culture, it is almost impossible to find a civilization that has not experienced a period in which the masses have abdicated responsibility for their lives, and turned their destiny over to a compelling caretaker. As humans, we are challenged by two competing drives; the strong need to be taken care of and protected; and the drive to be autonomous and free from anyone else’s control. If you’ve raised a three or four year old, you need no other example.
Arleah and I have had the privilege to travel to many countries, and we are always seeking the opportunity to study the relationship, in these countries, between the populace and their governments. We focus our attention there, because we’re convinced that what ultimately defines a culture is this often fragile relationship between those who are governed and those who govern. And so far, we have yet to find a relationship in a country, that even approximates that which we have in America.
In our travels, we occasionally have poignant and impactful interactions that crystallize our observations. One of those occurred in one of our trips to the former Soviet Union. We were in Leningrad the day the Soviet Union collapsed, and the city was literally renamed St Petersburg. We were with our guide/translator, a very articulate university professor and student of world affairs. As people were celebrating all around us, I asked her a question that I assumed was rather rhetorical: “Are you looking forward to living in a democratic country, and having more of a say about your future?” She replied, with no hesitation: “No.” I was surprised, and asked her, what kind of government would you then wish to have. Her response was, again, quick and strongly felt: “I would like to live under a benevolent Czar.” Arleah and I were surprised, to say the least. But as we absorbed her response, a strong sense we had had during this trip, was reinforced. People are looking for someone to tell them what to do, as long as they’re not mean about it.
I have no doubt that many people voted in this mid-term election, for those people who, they felt, would do the best job of taking care of them, and lifting the burden of choice and decision-making off of their shoulders. I don’t think that past performance, hostile ads, or even party affiliation played a significant role in people’ votes. And I think that this situation is a cautionary tale for both business and politics, and will only increase the entitlement pressures in our society.