Thursday, February 21, 2008

A parable on the Presidential election... Winners, Champions, The Thing and Hope

The Champions and the Winners, two similarly-sized groups, shared ownership over The Thing. The Thing was a big machine, with many different parts and accessories. It was essential to their well-being and protection.

The Thing was complicated and cranky. Sometimes it worked well. Sometimes it almost worked well. Sometimes it didn't work at all. Both the Champions and the Winners wanted the machine to work. They had different ideas about what The Thing should do and how those things should be done.

Both groups had plans for The Thing. An addition should be made to that part. Another part needed to be replaced. The Champions argued that some parts of The Thing should be eliminated completely. The Winners wanted to make some of those things even bigger.

Obviously, everyone agreed that each individual couldn't have unfettered access to The Thing. In order to manage ongoing maintenance and construction of The Thing, they established a system to determine how adjustments would be made and who would get to make them.

The system, theoretically, could work based on a democratic consensus. Champions and Winners could vote for individual group members to represent their interests with respect to the operation of The Thing. Those elected Champions and Winners would be responsible for tending to it.

That's not exactly what happened. Over time, the positions of the Champions and the Winners diverged enough that real consensus was very difficult. Members of both groups also learned to love the power associated with being voted to tend to The Thing. They found it easier to maintain their important positions in the society by being more strident and less cooperative. Sure, it was supposed to be all about fixing The Thing, but it transitioned into a series of contests in which access to The Thing and its power was its own reward.

That led many Champions and Winners to stay away from the matter completely. They became The Disaffected, a large group of people who no longer paid attention to The Thing and who felt the whole situation was doomed. The behavior of the Winners and Champions convinced them that there was no hope. No hope for the society, no hope for The Thing, no hope for one another. Everyone knew that the efforts of the Disaffected could be helpful to maintenance of The Thing. They all knew that the Disaffected might be able to do great things and concoct brilliant ideas if they were engaged. Unfortunately, there was little real effort made to bring them into the fold. Doing so would require a change to the system and that wasn't interesting to powerful Winners or Champions.

The endless fighting between the Champions and the Winners made it tough for anyone to fix The Thing. It became very difficult for people to agree on how The Thing should work. The Thing limped along, but it did so in spite of its maintainers, not because of them. The Winners and the Champions were lucky--they started with a good Thing and it was hard to destroy. Everyone, however, knew it could be better.

One day, the Winners and the Champions gathered to choose one of The Thing's mechanics. The yelling, as always started.

"We need to add a new part! We can't let The Thing continue with the old part", the Champions yelled.
"It isn't about the part! We need to fix the cog attached to the part, and we need to do it THIS way", screamed the Winners.

The Winners blamed the Champions for The Thing's shortcomings. The Champions claimed the Winners secretly hated The Thing. Everyone fought.

It went on and on. Winners had a detailed plan for correcting The Thing's deficiencies. So did the Champions. Some of the two plans matched, other parts were incompatible. They yelled and screamed and fought over which plan would be better for The Thing. They fought so much and became so personally attached to their group and plan that they were willing to make weak and unfair arguments in support of their perspective--and their preferred mechanic.

Then, one of the people interested in becoming a mechanic for The Thing announced that NOTHING would fix the machine if the yelling didn't stop.

"The thing is good but it could be better", he said. "We all agree that the machine needs improvement and we're all interested in making things work". People nodded in agreement.

"The problem is that we have become far more interested in yelling about The Thing and our plans than we are in actually making things work. How long have we been screaming about The Thing? How long have Champions refused to listen to Winners? How long have Winners mocked Champions? What are we left with? The Thing is limping and we're more interested in our feuds than improving it". It was hard to argue with the would-be mechanic.

"I have an idea. I think we can improve The Thing. However, I don't think we can do it until we stop fighting like children. We need to live up to the names of our groups--Champions and Winners. I'm not saying that more respect, cooperation and honesty will make The Thing perfect. I am, however, fully convinced that The Thing will continue to decay unless we stop acting this way".

Many of the Winners and Champions agreed. Some, however, didn't.

"Sure, that sounds great but it'll never happen", a Champion opined.
"Well, all of that pretty talk is fine, but we're the only ones with a real plan to fix The Thing", said a Winner.

The would-be mechanic listened and responded.

"Approaching this differently won't, by itself, solve every problem. I'll give you that. However, our odds of fixing The Thing are going to be a great deal better if we can stop this Winner/Champion bickering. We don't stand a chance if we keep fighting for the sake of fighting instead of working together to make The Thing great".

"I know that some of you will agree with my ideas. Some of you won't. I'll like some of your ideas. Some of them I won't. I can promise you, though, that we can actually start talking about plans and how to fix The Thing if we first stop bickering about every detail. We need to be more concerned about The Thing and how we handle it than we are about our pride, our groups and positions".

"Think about the times we made good adjustments to The Thing. It always happened when we were working together. It never happened while we were fighting with one another about whether the Champions or Winners were best. Somewhere along the line, we got stuck in a horrible rut. That's where we are today. Now, it's time for a change. It's time to handle The Thing with more respect, dignity and intelligence. I think that offers the only real hope".

"Some plans might be better than others, but none of the plans matter one iota if Champions and Winners are spending more time fighting than working. The Thing won't improve because we're mean to each other or because we refuse to listen to one another. The Thing won't improve with all of the Disaffected sitting on the sidelines. We need everyone and we need cooperation. That's a prerequisite for fixing The Thing".

His message was well-received. The Disaffected liked it. They were sick of the bickering and tired of the lying. They had seen so much of it over the years that they didn't involve themselves with The Thing, but the would-be mechanic got to them. They realized that they might be able to make a difference. They realized that their efforts, their thoughts, their plans and their involvement might help improve The Thing. They liked him.

Suddenly, it was becoming clear that something else--something bigger than a plan--would be necessary to fix The Thing. It was obvious that no team of mechanics would ever optimize The Thing until underlying attitudes were changed. It was reasonable to believe that greater involvement and consideration from the Disaffected could play a role in improving The Machine.

Some of the Winners didn't like the challenge. Some of the Champions became angry. Neither of them, however, could explain how The Thing would get better without first making some very real changes. Winners and Champions failed to prove that there was a real chance for improvement without first bridging gaps, listening to one another.

The only hopeful solution belonged to the would-be mechanic who believed the society could do better.


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1 comment:

  1. Very nice explanation, John. Maybe that book you're writing is beginning to take shape.