Why I care

You live in Manchester snowflake, why do you care about our President?” This from an anonymous account on Twitter, miffed that I wasn’t a big Trump fan. Trolling intent aside the question is actually fair. Why should I care who Americans choose to lead their country? For that matter why should any other nationality care about what’s going on in any country other than its own?

Technically none of us runs anything. We’re all too busy trying to make a living. Distance irons out the details, strips away the everyday moments and leaves virtually cinematic, big-issue questions to be fed in endless, probably over-simplified and maybe polarized, internet conversations across the world. Hardly the stuff to change anything, let alone towards the better. So, really why should I care?

The question bothered me much as I dismissed the trolling that followed. I am not alone in being really busy, short of sleep and with a “To-Do” list that seems to regenerate the moment I take my eyes off it. So, spending time finding out what perceived fresh affront to common decency has been purveyed by the world’s ruling elite is hardly a good use of my time. Worse than that, it’s not even rational.

The more I thought about it, the more I knew that I had to understand my own motivation. Why did I spend the early hours of each morning catching up with American politics or seeing what was happening in France, or Germany or The Netherlands, instead of getting my much needed ZZZs? Looking around I could see I wasn’t alone. Dutch people kept tags on the US Administration. American friends were tracking the UK political scene and the evolution of Brexit. Friends from Canada would ask me what was happening in Greece and Italy and Greeks I know, kept a close eye on both US and Britain. It suddenly seemed that everyone was looking at everyone else’s backyard, forming opinions on it and sharing their thoughts.

Why?

“We’re not idiots.”

Few of the people I asked had much insight to offer, but a couple did say that the world now felt cast loose. Adrift. Their words became the lever I used to pry open others’ closely held reasons. It also helped me understand … me, better too.

“…trust is maintained because those who are in power accept the unwritten rules of the social contract that binds us all together.”

So, What Did Others Say?

There is no vacuum. Each of us may live our lives seemingly separated from everyone else, subject to pressure all the time, but we also each feel that the fabric of our being is invisibly and indivisibly embedded in the world. While we don’t articulate it we want to think that the universe, on the whole, is balanced and just.

We’re not idiots. We know that anyone who can get away with it will abuse power and authority. We get that business may start out with the best of intentions but can get dirty very quickly and politics may call upon ideology but it’s the backroom deals and power struggles that further political careers that actually drive it. At the same time we want to feel that in public, at least, trust is maintained because those who are in power accept the unwritten rules of the social contract that binds us all together.

They behave the way we would expect ourselves to behave if we were in their shoes. This unrealistic tableau however is exactly what makes it possible for ‘them’ who enjoy incredible power and, often, wealth, and ‘us’ to work together with an equal understanding that makes us all feel connected.

“Break that social contract,” a friend told me, “and we may as well go back to the caves, living by the size of our stone club and the strength we have to wield it.”

That’s just the point. That perception that the world is actually worth living in that changes everything. It transforms the attempt to earn a living and survive into something bigger and deeper which also allows each of us to be bigger and better than our kneejerk tendencies might permit.

People in power will always have those odd moments when the mask slips, when they stumble, when they reveal that the world they truly inhabit and their understanding of how things sometimes work is as alien from us as if they all truly lived in space. But because they care enough to rue those moments and try hard to avoid them we forgive them. In their flaws we see our own frailty. And even when we punish them in some way we also understand their imperfection.

It is when they thumb their nose at us, when they say “there, see. Nothing you can do about it,” that the universe tilts. The Balance we all implicitly believe in, is disturbed.

“…should I fail as a person to be the best version of me, there are still people and countries out there where that is the right thing to be. The best attitude to have.”

When that happens, while substantially nothing may have changed for us, everything is different. The world feels changed. Perception is the filter through which we process information and make decisions. Change the perception and the decisions we make change with it. So I care who runs the most powerful country on Earth because if we cannot, as a species, get that right enough to drive things forward, even incrementally, then we have no right to expect less fortunate, less powerful countries to do what’s right. And if we don’t expect them to do what’s right, then there is no real right beyond that anointed by might.

I care because I want to feel that should I fail as a person to be the best version of me, there are still people and countries out there where that is the right thing to be. The best attitude to have. I care because I want to feel that the standards to meet and the bar to beat are higher than my average best and spur me on. And I care because when all these things happen I sense other people around me striving harder, being better, and that drives us all on even when some of us stumble and fall.

It’s all a little too long for a 140-character long Twitter reply. But that is why I care. And why you should too.

My latest book: The Sniper Mind: Eliminate Fear, Deal with Uncertainty, and Make Better Decisions is a neuroscientific study into how to apply practical steps for better decision making.