Politics – it starts as children when we tell Mommy things that we knowingly exclude from Daddy, so that we can get our way.
Politicking within a group is the covert building of support towards something you want in order to gain advantage over opponents, so that they don’t have time to build equal support. You politic so that you can win, whether by vote or organic popular approval or by influencing a decision maker. When you do this, it is essentially not loving to those you oppose because it does not put their highest as your goal. It places you above others, and above the entire community, and is therefore what I call all things that are destructive to healthy community – sin.
The Broadside – Even a dirty mobster like Tony Soprano, understands the concept of politicking, and the need to mitigate it within groups because of its harmfulness. In a recent episode of the Soprano’s, he had a secret meeting with someone, and after it concluded successfully, he informed them that his next call would be to a particular person who was affected, so that they would not find out at the last minute and be broadsided [update: actually he said blindsided, but I like broadsided better of the two synonyms].
Building a personal agenda-driven political coalition within a group creates exclusion and rejection of those you don’t include. Not telling someone the full truth about an issue you are pursuing, but going behind their back covertly and building a political coalition of those with the same view as yours is deeply destructive to the group because right at its core, at its very heart you have rampant self absorption driving a wedge through the group for the benefit of the wedge drivers against the trumped, the surprised, the ambushed, the broadsided, the rejected.
Christ has shown us a better way. The first of his ways is that he always puts the highest of the other as his greatest goal. The second is how this connects to unity – the putting of the overall group’s union and wholeness and integrity over the individual desires of members.
When an individual member of a group feels a desire to see change within the group for some reason that might benefit him or others, they should pray and ask Jesus if this is a good thing to pursue – it very well may be. In fact one of the reasons it is easy to not notice the temptation of politicking pulling you in, is that it often happens in the pursuit of a very good thing. But when a good thing at a smaller level creates disunity at a bigger level, it becomes a bad thing.
The goal is to get the good small thing, while maintaining the good big thing.
First, pray (and let me say that when I say pray, I mean a very kind of thoughtful spiritual formation prayer that is the whole person thinking, reading scripture and other good books, talking to others and praying specifically to God – the whole person with all faculties reaching outside of itself and asking God to speak through these multiple formats). By first asking Jesus if this is a good thing to pursue, this will automatically erase many of the problems because so often the Holy Spirit is very clear to show you that you are pursuing something for the wrong reasons, and you choose to obediently give it up.
But when the Lord encourages you that this could be a good thing for the group, then your next step is to pray and ask for wisdom on timing – when do you begin to propose this idea to others? Maybe there are obvious issues that could be overcome just by waiting for a period of time.
Then after sensing that it is right, and the timing is good, then pray and think about how to begin sharing it with others. Here is the moment when most temptations to politic arise. Our selfish desire to get our way, combined with our basic social intelligence easily sees the lines as they lay out – we see who would be the best to talk to and who would be the worst to talk to.
The key is to put the good of others first, and the good of the entire group first.
If this is an issue that doesn’t so much affect the whole group as it does a particular individual in the group, then they are the first person you should talk to. This is the essence of the broadside – you talk to others, and then after raising support, you talk to them, and hit them with not only your personality but with the extra bulk of others adding weight and velocity to your purpose. They are hit right on the side and shocked by the force of the blow.
The broadside is not loving. (Nor the Soprano blindside)
Love them by going to them first while it is still just a little thought in your one head, that you individually share with them, and that you let them know it is just a little thought in your head and carries no more weight than that. They will be able to hear the idea as a personal word from you that carries your heart and gives it to them. Normal human relationship can ensue.
What if they don’t agree and reject your idea?
Then you have to once again resist the temptation to politic and give it some time to settle in. Maybe it will percolate in their mind a bit, and they will change their mind, or come to you with a modified version that works even better. Also God can speak to them and change their mind. Much of loving others well has to do with trusting God to lead others, and not exerting your own energy to influence selfishly or manipulate.
If the idea you have affects the entire group, rather than just individuals within it, and the group has a leadership structure, then you should definitely go to the person within the group that has been tasked with the responsibility to receive such ideas from members of the group. It may not be the head leader; there may be some chain of command, where ideas flow up through the levels of the leadership structure.
Or if it is a more organic group with no clear leader, then simply mention it to everyone at once at the same time in a meeting, where they are all hearing it simultaneously. If there are no meetings, than just begin to tell it to others or small groups of others until you’ve told everyone with a firm watch on your own hearts desire to politic.
It may be that rather than affecting an individual, it affects a certain wing of the group – go to them first. Or you may know an individual who you know won’t support it, even though it doesn’t affect them, so you go to them first so that you are forcing yourself to avoid politicking.
This becomes much more complex when you apply it to business and governmental organizations, where politics may be a good and planned part of the culture, but even there you have to separate between where politics is good and where it is bad – for example, it may be good for Senators to politick amongst themselves concerning bills awaiting vote, but it may not be good for staff members of a single Senator to politic within their office.
The risk of avoiding politicking is that others may not be so loving, and will immediately commence politicking themselves. You will have “shown your hand” too soon, and put yourself at a disadvantage – but that disadvantage that you now enjoy, is the fellowship of deep communion with the one who put himself at the ultimate disadvantage.
The healing of the world is only possible when many put themselves at the disadvantage of loving others above themselves. You may endure many small sufferings when you choose to pick up your cross and die for others, but you will win in the end when Jesus returns and finds you standing at your post doing his work and living out his radical “others focus” on earth.