Magazine article Tikkun

The Politician Within

Magazine article Tikkun

The Politician Within

Article excerpt

While politics will always be about getting things done, or stopping things from happening, most citizens know that there is usually a private, even a secret dimension to the ways in which their political beliefs, commitments, and actions have evolved in them. We need a language in which to explore "the politician within,' and at present we lack such a language. This exploration has to be conducted with respect and affection for the diversity of the politician within each citizen. I want to avoid creating another monolith, an "I" or "we" that won't survive in politics today.

What happens if we pay the kind of attention we give, in therapy, to the inner life of the individual to what might be called his or her "political selfhood?" We would be entering the realm of "self-awareness" and, because it is scarcely possible to give an objective history of one's politics, we should think instead in terms of the "political myth of the person."

Most often, psychological forays into the realm of politics have focused either on the psychology of the politicians--their character and likely behavior in stressful situations and crises have studied the voters to help politicians appeal to or manipulate them. There has not been very much psychological work done in relation to the citizen's experiences of and in politics.

A good deal of political debate boils down to disagreement about what constitutes human nature. After all, people have always spoken about politics and politicians in emotional terms. Why, then, are they so reluctant to turn to psychology and psychotherapy as sources for new political ideas to fill the current vacuum?

From the greed and envy highlighted by Whitewatergate to the sexual confusions of the Clarence Thomas hearings, politics presents us with unmistakably psychological issues. But in analyzing our reactions to these events, the media and the electorate fail to connect the inner, private levels of life with the outer, public levels.

In a new language to link psychology and politics, it will be more and more difficult to make universally true statements. We will want to know more about the hidden, personal agenda of the person who is speaking and acting.

Therapists know that everyone teems with inner people (sub-personalities), something that both therapists and clients find difficult to acknowledge--it is much easier and safer to take personality as something organized and unified. In the same way, we need an approach to politics that understands that no citizen has a single, unified political identity.

This is not only an issue for political strategists and pundits. Many people want to know how they can transiate their emotional, imaginative, and bodily responses to Bosnia, to ecological disaster, to homelessness, into action. How can they begin to make use of their private reactions to public events?

Over the past few years, I have been running workshops and conferences in several countries on psychological approaches to politics. In this work, I have discovered that people are much more political than they believed. They know more about the political events of the day than they think they do. Gradually, participants discover that they have long been living in a political world about which they had always been informed. What often emerges is that people have more and stronger political commitments than they knew about. Such commitments need time to emerge; they are not always found by signing petitions, going to demonstrations, or voting.

These buried sources of political wisdom lie in the private reactions everyone has to political events. Yet these reactions have no ready outlet, since they are all too often dismissed as subjective.

For example, at a workshop in New York, shortly after the Los Angeles riots, I asked a largely nonprofessional audience to dig up and record their emotional, fantasy, and physical responses to the riots. …

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