A few weeks back I had a bit of an educational experience. I can’t get into specifics, but I’m wondering if I might be able to abstract the essence.
A party approached a group that I work with asking for our support on a particular initiative. This party has considerable power and influence, and our little group does not — or so I thought. I was under the impression that the party in question would ultimately get what they wanted, whether we supported them or not. I thought it would behoove us to support their initiative so that we could develop a friendly relationship and perhaps steer them in a mutually beneficial direction.
When we sat down to talk about it, they revealed that they had already approached some governmental authorities about the matter at hand. The governmental authorities had deferred to our little group. I was a bit surprised by this. Our group has been working for some while to advance our cause. Apparently along the way we have gained a smidgen of influence. In some small way, we have successfully inserted ourselves into the political process. I felt pretty good about that.
Back to the initiative in question, which we were being asked to support. Suddenly my realpolitik rationale for supporting the initiative had evaporated. I was still inclined to say yes. By virtue of my profession I’m oriented to helping people. I’m in the habit of saying yes. Of course, that was a qualified yes. It would have to be cleared with the rest of the group.
Over the next few days, I and others in the group heard from our friends in various branches of government. Many of them were not pleased with the idea that we would support this initiative. Some were quite passionate on this point. They felt it would be a big mistake. The authority who had initially deferred to us was still deferential: “If your group doesn’t have a problem with this, then we don’t have a problem either.” But there was clearly some concern, and these concerns were spelled out to me in detail.
Finally, when our group met and discussed the issue, our consensus was clear. We decided not to support the initiative. The reasons were various but above all there was a matter of long-standing principle which I’d neglected to consider. I had to backpedal a bit, since I had initially indicated that we could support the initiative, but it was not too difficult to explain our position to all interested parties.
So what did I learn after all of that? Clearly, it’s easier to stand by your principles if you’ve got solid footing. But it seems there’s something more. I guess I could put it like this: You can insert yourself into the political process, but the political process will also be inserted into you.