Stakes are too high for knee jerk politics

    The political season has reached the final stages of a very long battle, and I’m dismayed by so much of what I see.

    Professional journalists coming unglued. Bloggers spewing opinion spiked with venom – many displaying their lack of education with horrific spelling and grammar. Candidates judged on the basis of oratory skills, hairstyles, verbal gaffes and attractiveness of mates.

    Shame on us.

    We certainly live in a celebrity age and there is no doubt that people who matter little to what really matters get unwarranted time in the spotlight.

    But there are others who stand to influence the course of world events who have become celebrities in this nation – our presidential candidates, for sure, along with people like Ahmadinejad, Putin, and others – who should be thought of in much more deliberate and educated terms.

    Critical thinking is the first of five leadership skills I teach and if there has ever been a time for people to settle down and think critically, it is now.

    The political environment has been frothy for nearly two years. Certainly the battle between the first woman and first Black presidential candidate has inflamed the passions of many. On the surface, this is progress to be celebrated.

    But when we consider the nastiness of the battle and the continuing preponderance of petty and thuggish behavior, this nation has nothing to be proud of.

    What we are witnessing does not call anyone to highest aspirations or achievements. It calls to our basest natures and our meanest tendencies to take out opponents in order to advance personal achievements. Is this what we want to teach future generations?

    We are conflicted as a society. Do we want to be street fighters? Not necessarily. Do we want to join hands to sing Kumbaya? Not necessarily. We want people to know they can’t mess with us. And we want people to know that compassion is important; that every one of us has a right to be who we are.

    Cool. What does this mean for a self-governing nation?

    How do we embrace, understand and come to decisions about issues that affect our future? Heated, emotional responses to heated, emotional taunts are not the answer. Judging people on their looks or oratory skills is dangerous. So is accepting what certain people say because they are "experts."

    Stop. Take a deep breath. Consider what is most important to you and what you are willing to sacrifice to achieve it. Promises made during the height of a political battle for president rarely hold up. That’s sad, but it’s true.

    Our nation was founded on a government by the people, for the people. Think hard on that. You are "the people."

    Beyond the current politics, think about your life in general. Do you react with temperature, hot or cold, to people or events in your life? If so, you are at the mercy of others who can stir your emotions.
    Critical thinking is about stepping back, getting a realistic view of the landscape, understanding the powers at work, understanding your "mission" and tendencies to react, and choosing the best pathway to an outcome you desire.

    It’s not easy. Your opponents will not automatically cave in because you have done your homework. Don’t expect that.

    But when you can get a handle on your emotions and automatic judgments, you’ll be stronger in your ability to recognize people who will truly work for you and those who only want to count you in their column of supporters.

    Whether you realize it or not, you control the destiny of your country. By all means, step up to that with pride and conviction. But before you do, please take the time to think critically.

    Susan Marshall is a consultant and founder of Executive Advisor LLC in Oconomowoc. She also is the author of "How to Grow a Backbone." For additional information, visit www.executiveadvisorllc.com.

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