There nothing like the onset of an election to unleash myriad perspectives from people who till now have never expressed an opinion on politics, one way or another. It seems as if, suddenly, everyone has an opinion that they’re more than willing to share. And I’m fascinated.
Daily, I hear people I know and respect argue in favour of politicians I have little time for, or indeed argue against the only one that I have any time for at all. I remind myself that the world would indeed be a boring place if we all shared the same opinion, so rather than challenge their views, I’m relishing the fact that they have opinions they’re willing to share with me in the first place. For democracy to work, people have to engage. I wasn’t born in Hungary and my command of the language is basic at best. So for me to understand the vagaries of Hungarian politics, I need to hear it all: I need people to talk to me and tell me what they think.
Politics, like most things, is about perspective. We interpret the actions of a particular government or party or individual politician based on what we think is right or wrong, good or bad, smart or stupid. If we have a vested interest in, say, higher education, anyone who does what we’d like them to do in this area is likely to win our vote, regardless of what they might do for another sector of the community in which we have no interest at all. If we think we’re paying too much tax, then our vote will most likely go to whoever promises to lower it. Political parties and their politicians play to this. They recognise human nature for what it is. We are conditioned, in this part of the world anyway, to think of ourselves, to put our own interests, and those of our families, first and foremost.
American columnist Franklin Pierce Adams had it right all those years ago when he proclaimed that elections are won by men and women chiefly because most people vote against somebody rather than for somebody.
I read a Facebook post recently about an anthropologist in Africa who set a basket of fruit some distance from a group of kids. He told them that whoever reached the basket first could have all the fruit. Instead of making a mad dash for it, the kids held hands and ran together. They all arrived at the same time and shared the fruit. When he asked why, they replied: How could any one of us be happy eating the fruit if everyone else was sad? In Africa, this is known as ubuntu. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said: Ubuntu is very difficult to render into a Western language…It is to say. ‘My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in what is yours’…
I wonder what the government would look like if we proved FPA’s claim to be false and instead voted with ubuntu in mind.
First published in the Budapest Times 24 January 2014