Simply choosing a side is a very basic way of making important decisions.
Can we create the best world possible by just staying loyal to a single institution?
Like many people, I follow football. I love the sport as a whole, but naturally, I support just one team.
Becoming fans of sports teams creates automatic rivalries. I prefer mine to yours. I hope mine wins and yours loses. I don’t like the members of your team, by default. Even when your team’s suffering isn’t linked to my team’s victory, it’s a positive result for me.
Sport is a great reflection of the innate, carnal sense of tribalism that we all have. In choosing to belong to one side, we also decide to be against all others. Sport wouldn’t be fun without it. Logic and reason are replaced by emotion and passion.
Identities are merged with the collective. Sporting alliances split households and divide cities. They also bring people together from across the globe; common interests that transcend so many of our differences.
It’s perfectly understandable for this to happen when it comes to sport, but very concerning when we carry these behaviours into areas that matter more.
Politics, for instance, exploits these same instincts. We allow ourselves to be divided by parties instead of standing behind policies that we actually support. We rally behind the idea rather than the reality.
Our decision to pick a side often slows down the route to actual progress.
A conservative will reject the suggestions of a liberal, for example, often out of loyalty to the side they chose to follow. It makes a politician’s job easier but it oversimplifies the debate. Local or global issues are very rarely about us and them. Choices are never black and white.
If we separate ourselves from simple allegiances, there are a myriad of options and possibilities that we can combine together to move towards a better future.
Every political system has it’s pros and cons. Our gradual move into a more central ground has shown that there are benefits in meeting in the middle. But compromise doesn’t have to be the last resort of an argument. We would achieve more if we took the best from all sides by design.
The biggest barrier to a more collaborative politics is the choice we make every few years.
We choose a colour and feel compelled to stand in their corner for every round of the fight.
A party manifesto represents the entire intentions of a party. We simply choose the one we like the most, regardless of how many points we disagree with.
A political system based on engaging everyone, across redundant party lines to make the best decisions for everyone is surely preferable?
Most of us, on reflection, would be able to see the benefits of an argument from a ‘rival party’ but are conditioned to reject it out of hand. Across the world, politics is turned into an ugly battle between individuals rather than a collaborative conversation of progress.
Just like sports, we get distracted by the personalities and the commentary.
The stakes are higher though, and it is dangerous to lose sight of all sides.
The unfortunate truth is that our tendency to pick a side is exploited. International politics is filled with rhetoric that groups people together and then attacks them collectively.
Politicians spend more time demonising the opposition than they do on detailing their plans for change.
In the UK, voters for the Conservative party are as likely to be anti-Corbyn as they are passionate supporters of the decisions their party makes.
In the USA, the anti-Trump wave of the last 24 months is threatening to guarantee a Democratic party victory in 2020, regardless of the implications of their actual policies.
The argument is often made that we should opt for the lesser of two evils, but this is a sad and scary choice for us to have to make.
I won’t pretend that the solution is a simple one. Our political process is outdated and in need of transformation, and the end result is one that should be devised by people far cleverer than me.
Whatever the answer, we should all be wary of engaging in a political discussion that simply asks us to pick a side.
Our world is more complicated than choosing which box to tick. Voting at elections and then taking an apathetic back seat is a terrifying plan for the future.
Firstly it means we can be coerced and manipulated periodically when politicians can benefit, before our power is stripped away until policy makers need us again.
It leaves too much in the hands of a small group of individuals with questionable competence and conflicting priorities.
It allows the process to be less transparent and blurs the lines between what we are voting for, relegating it to a limited conversation about who.
For the next generation, political decisions should be something they actively shape and not just observe from the sidelines.
I love that my children support a football team, although I’ve lost the battle of getting them both to support the same team as me. At school, they bond with classmates who support the same club.
Similarly with political decisions, I’ll encourage them to share their passions to find common ground with others, even if they don’t always see things my way.
Like my girlfriend at the World Cup, though, I would hate for them to show interest every 4 years for the big event and ignore the detail of the bigger picture in the interim. When it comes to decisions that affect their future it will be vital that they know the dangers of simply being a red or a blue.
Thank you for reading and please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.