By Jon Stokes
What Positive Politics Means
Moving away from a politics of survival based on stoking the view that the other side is somehow aiming to destroy what we value, to a politics based on the aims of growth and development. From a psychology of paranoia based on an exaggeration of the dangers of the other and the relative weakness of self, to a strengths based psychology, what are the strengths in the present situation, the people and relationships in it, and how can they be enhanced. It is based on:
- Assuming that people are capable of solving their own problems more effectively than experts
- The task of politicians is not to TO provide answers but to create and maintain the conditions in which people can solve problems for themselves
- Heroic charismatic styles of leadership are not required
Evidence from Research
Research over the past 20 years clearly identifies the conditions under which human beings flourish.
In simple terms people who describe themselves as happy describe themselves as having:
2. Good relationships
3. Purpose and meaning in their life
This roughly corresponds to:
1. NHS and Education
2. Family and community
3. Work in a broad sense, that is activity with a purpose leading to a meaningful outcome, whether this be paid employment, childcare, voluntary activities etc.
The attraction of the “big society” idea was that it appeared to offer these things and was a large part of Cameron’s appeal at the last election. What it lacked was any detailed plan of execution.
Evidence-based policies of creating and enhancing the conditions in which people develop, flourish and build positive relationships with one another is entirely feasible. The approach known as “positive psychology” provide a robust scientific basis for government policy focused on these ends.
In this framework the task of the professional is not to so much to provide the answers and to manipulate a willing client, but to provide the conditions in which the client discovers answers themselves and to enable the client to apply these in their life. The fundamental basis of all positive help is the provision of a helper who is experienced as genuine, who listens accurately and is experienced as positively disposed to the client. This applies and is evidenced in all the helping professions – counselling, healthcare, teaching, and applies equally to parenting as well. The profession of politics has yet to take account of this; it would mean a politics of development rather than of survival.
So What Do We Know?
Research demonstrates that well-being can be supported through the fostering of:
- positive emotion – positive emotion serves to broaden and build access to personal competencies. In the physical realm positive emotions have a measurable benefit on many measures of positive physical health.
- engagement – feeling engaged by one’s work or other activities
- accomplishments – feeling that one’s actions achieve a purpose beyond oneself
- the psychological conditions under which resilience, self-efficacy and optimism arise and are sustained
What This Means for Politics
This research could provide the basis for an evidence-based policy of positive politics in which the aim is not to focus on the causes of problems and on blaming others, but on increasing awareness of and choices about what can be done to solve the problem.
By promoting the positive strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive and flourish, politicians would move from a politics of salvation to a politics of enablement based on research rather than prejudice. One reason for the lack of interest in politics is the lack of belief in politicians as being capable of providing much in the way of answers to what matters to people. The more their own behaviour has come under scrutiny from the media in the past 10 years the more evident this seems.
The general view of politicians is that they are engaged in a game of stoking prejudice for personal gain, an approach which is attractive and works well in a world of either/or, ruling/working classes, us/them, but is neither viable nor credible in a world of multiple value systems, of complex choices and without institutions that bolster simplistic oppositional categories. The solution is not to revert to such reassuring emotional “verities” but to take account of scientific research on the nature of how people, families and communities develop, change and flourish.
Jon Stokes is a business psychologist and leadership coach
This piece forms part of Jon Cruddas’s Guest Edit of LabourList