Part 1: Are You Political, or Positional?
Most consumers of political news are familiar with the phrase special interest group. At its core, it means people (whether paid lobbyists or unpaid activists) who are advocating a point-of-view (POV) to government officials. Special interest groups, as a concept, are often frowned upon and cast in a negative light because if a relatively tiny portion of the population is saking for something, then it must not be what the rest of us wants. Therefore, it amounts to favoritism.
Generally, this characterization is grossly inaccurate. Government advocacy is a critical function of our democratic system. It is a source of vital information for legislators and their staff to make decisions about what they do and don’t vote for. On the one hand, it helps them consider issues from perspectives they may not have otherwise considered, adding insight to the issue. On the other hand, it informs them as to how their various constituents feel (and how strongly they feel about it).
Most people will never or only barely participate in the political process beyond casting an occasional election vote — and that is unfortunate. One of life’s unique, mind-expanding and perhaps most challenging experiences is taking up an issue, thinking strategically about the best way to present a POV, and attempting to persuade someone in a position of authority.
Yet, for the relative few who do engage in lobbying, the vast majority make this critical strategic error: mixing their positions with their politics.
Think of one’s politics as a set of default positions on a wide range of issues. Our politics tend to run deeply within our personalities and are an important construct of our self-identities. We tend to attract and be attracted to people who share our politics, while repelling others who don’t. Some people can get emotional about their politics (to their own detriment), as emotion shuts down logical reasoning and rational dialogue.
In contrast, a single position is a conclusion based on a set of understood information (or beliefs). Think of a large grassy field ringed by trees. Each tree represents a position surrounding the issue. Trees on opposite sides of the field are diametrically opposed, with each tree around the field representing a view of the issue from a different angle — a continuous range of possible positions. Now, where do you stand in the field? If you are right next to a particular tree, then your mind is made up. If you stand in the middle of the field, you have no idea and are ready to be influenced. You may be standing somewhere that shows you are leaning in a particular direction, but attracted to some other ideas too, such that you are not yet resolute.
Do your politics dictate your positions, or do your positions dictate your politics? Consider the distinction in Part 2.