It's Time We Elected Emotionally Intelligent Leaders

Choosing politicians who are wise and compassionate.

Posted Sep 05, 2020

 Tumisu/Pixabay
Source: Tumisu/Pixabay

Congressional approval ratings are at historic lows, but few commentators are addressing the underlying problems. Many of its members are lawyers and business people who have spent a lifetime pursuing their personal goal of being a winner and high achiever.

Much of their training is about how to triumph in an adversarial culture, honing the art of ridiculing and outsmarting their opponent in order to make their views, opinions, and most notably, themselves look good, while painting their adversary as a frightening, loathsome creature who wants to crush your precious American freedoms (call me cynical, but do they mean things like your freedom to remain poor—and get sick and not afford health care?).

As a psychotherapist for 40 years, I sense the underlying vulnerability in those who have a penchant to dominate and control others. When I work with couples, I often notice how connections deepen when they let down their guard and reveal tender feelings of fear, shame, or hurt that underlie aggressive and destructive posturing. When the desire to be right or looking good yields to what’s really happening inside them, magic often happens.

An amusing and perhaps revealing Saturday Night Live skit would show our representatives gathering in group therapy to uncover what’s really driving them. For one, it might be a painful sense of insecurity as a child: political power has been a path to overcome a gnawing sense of shame and inadequacy or compensate for shaky self-esteem. For another, it might be a way to win the respect of parents whose conditional love was tied to becoming a high achiever. A precious few might have altruistic leanings born of caring and compassion.

We can only hope that in the future, a more emotionally intelligent and psychologically aware electorate might differentiate between candidates who are motivated by the meaning and satisfaction they derive from serving others versus the desire to serve themselves. How can we tell the difference?

Do they appear aggressive, angry, and divisive or can you sense their heart and an interest in bringing people together? Do they shame and denigrate others or try to lift people up? Do they boast, “I made it big, and so can you,” rather than recognize that not everyone has the resources, connections, or trust fund to thrive? Are they outraged when symbols of freedom, such as the flag or national anthem are treated with perceived disrespect, but when actual freedoms are violated they are lackadaisical (freedoms such as the right to vote safely or be treated equally under the law)? Do they make room for ambiguity and not knowing everything or do they try to manipulate you through a false air of confidence and certainty (for example, that COVID-19 will disappear or that masks are never necessary).

For a precious few, such as Nelson Mandela, a political career was prompted by a deep compassion born of an intimate acquaintance with adversity—and an inner prompting to want to help others enjoy a safe, meaningful, flourishing life. Rather than use his power for payback, Mandela united a nation through the power of compassion, wisdom, and forgiveness. All too familiar with sorrow and sadness, he did not want others to suffer.

Instead of supporting candidates who thrive on harsh competitiveness and divisiveness, what if we turned toward those with a unifying vision? Plato believed that philosophers made the best rulers because their decisions would be guided by principles of wisdom and beauty. Extending that thought, what if we elected representatives who have expertise in raising healthy children (educators), or promote our physical, mental, and spiritual health (psychotherapists and health care providers), or who can offer spiritual guidance and inspiration (clergy who adhere to a separation of church and state)?

People with wise and open hearts often don’t have the ambition or funding to run for public office. I’m not a political expert, but it seems to me that if you're discouraged by politics and politicians, then the best way to constrain them is to give them free money! It may be counterintuitive, but if you have a distaste for our political process, then an equitable way to finance campaigns would ensure that no one has the disproportionate power to bombard us with distorted, manipulative messages that alienate us from the political process. This would also allow congressional leaders to focus their energies on serving us rather than spending half their time dialing for dollars for their next campaign.

Perhaps if enough of us awakened to what it would take to promote true liberty, equality, and justice, we might elect emotionally intelligent leaders dedicated to creating conditions where everyone is free to not only pursue, but also to meet their social, psychological, and spiritual needs—actualizing the American dream of freedom, prosperity, and happiness.

© John Amodeo.