Who would be an MP?

TAHU POTIKI
Last updated 08:47 25/01/2013

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Tahu Potiki

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I trained for a while in certain psychological therapies and learnt much about how human beings raised in Western culture react in response to other people and events we have relationships with.

I was particularly interested in group processes and group training. There is a phenomenon that exists when one is participating in such a forum.

Those attending are usually in an emotionally charged state as the preparation for the workshop and the focus of the facilitators is to try and bring certain feelings to the fore. This allows a reconstruction of key relationships in the participant's life and a critical view of what is functional and what may be dysfunctional.

In general those attending are there because they desire that level of attention and exploration of their personal psychological state. But at the same time there is usually a paralysing fear of actually sticking your neck out and volunteering to be seen by others in the group.

This is a classic example of the desire-versus-fear dichotomy that gets thoroughly explored in such forums and sits at the centre of human behaviour.

In my view, modern-day politics is also an example of this dichotomy playing out in real life.

Unlike royal dynasties where the new generation is groomed and specifically trained to take on the leadership responsibilities without the luxury of choice, Western politics allows an individual freedom to opt for the level of engagement. You can choose to vote (or not), actively support a party, participate as a worker in the bureaucratic machinery or stand for parliament or local government.

Most of us look upon those who take the ultimate leap and successfully rise to senior levels of public representation with a fair degree of cynicism, criticism and even disdain.

The fat salaries and over-the-top perks received by MPs that are not enjoyed by the rest of working class New Zealand are seen as self-serving and borderline corrupt. Every decision made is treated by most of us as the wrong one and, generally, we all have a better idea than the guy or gal carrying the can for the decision that actually counts.

The general mythology that grows out of all of this is that the civic and national leadership don't know what they are doing, that they are all on the gravy train and that they don't deserve to get what they get or to have the amount of power they have.

This may be true but the big distinction between them and us is that they have overcome their fears of loss or exposure to take on the big responsibilities.

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Some would argue that desire for power, greater riches or responsibility is already an indication of dysfunction but I would disagree. Playground relationships are more often about social ascendancy than not.

The increasingly invasive machinery of consumerism is tapping in to some pretty fundamental irrational yearnings to have things that we believe make us more complete or better people. The desire to have these things is utterly human but it only outweighs the fear of failing in a few of us.

And as we have seen this week the fear is not an irrational phobia. Falling from lofty political heights really does take its toll as everyone is watching, judging, smirking and sympathising. All the things you don't want when you trip over in the street let alone get tossed out of Cabinet on the six o'clock news.

Sure it has happened to the best of them. Bill English had an unforgettable and agonising walk of shame down the steps of Parliament and through the haranguing throng of journalists after losing the National Party leadership with Don Brash in 2003.

Many other high-profile MPs have let a tear slide down their cheek as they announce, in disgraced All Black fashion, that they are stepping aside in the better interests of the party. And then of course there is Brendan Horan.

The exposure is mighty intimidating and only few of us are ever prepared to take it on. And that is why these guys continue to have my admiration.

I am as big a dinner party critic as the next guy as we pontificate on how the world should be better but I haven't stuck my neck out and run for government, either local or national. Kate Wilkinson and Phil Heatley may have fallen short in the Prime Minister's eyes and, of course, it is entirely his prerogative, as well as his responsibility, on our behalf, to be confident in the capability of his top team.

Like others before them the ousted, or rejected, have enjoyed the trappings of power and profile and now they are more like the rest of us. Although it shouldn't that has to hurt. Ouch! Who would be an MP?

- The Press

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