It’s that time of year again when the mud is slung, the insults are spewed, and the skeletons are brought out of the closet. You guessed it – it’s time to pick our nation’s leader! It’s a time in America in which we become polarized and play into our cognitive biases. Red or blue, no matter which candidate you chose, you’ll have to defend against the naysayers while naysaying the opponent. There are two imperfect men being offered to us with a flurry of premeditated propaganda and ruthless character assassinations. The entire circus has brought me to a point of self-reflection. What if it were me?
Imperfect by Design
I’m far from perfect. If it were 1992 and I was at the Sheraton in NYC declaring, “I did not inhale,” it would’ve been a lie. If you’ve read about some of my growing pains already, you’ll also know that stealing could be added to the list of mud to be slung about me. And that part is in writing on the internet, so you know it could be easily exploited. I’ve also had plenty of moments in my adolescent life in which I became too intoxicated and likely recorded. The release of such a video could be a source of profit for an old friend. I’ve lived a full life, a life full of mistakes, and bad judgement.
But my biggest blunders have been my most valuable lessons. Without having some severe errors in judgement, I wouldn’t be as self-aware and self-adored.
So why do we expect our country’s leaders to fall under a different category? With each election comes a new set of lies and deceit. Will anyone running for POTUS stand up to the mudslinging and, instead of denying it say, “I did make that mistake. Here’s what I learned. And this is how my perspective has changed since then.” Why do we expect perfection? Why do we deny their darkness when we all have our own darkness?
Human trafficking, domestic violence, racism, police brutality, sexism, mental health disorders, and drug abuse are some of the topics on this election’s mud-slinging docket. It’s great to see so many citizens enraged over these issues – superficially – for a handful of months. But this darkness exists in our society every day. And it exists because it’s uncomfortable to talk about. Most of the issues are also easy to hide and they fester when they’re given the darkness they crave. They mainly exist within people in our immediate social circles, not only our political candidates. Yet we say, “He would never do that,” or “She would never do that.”
Chances are, if a person is involved in some easily concealed darkness, they won’t openly admit it. They’ll sweep it under the rug. It’s much easier to deflect than to take accountability. And if you’re in power, you could even change the laws to make sure you don’t have to be held accountable. In looking at one study done on domestic violence, The Bala Study, we can see deflection can be invasive, even in the highest courts of law.
According to the 2008 study conducted by law professor Nicholas Bala and three other researchers, in the context of custody disputes, mothers deliberately falsify reports [of abuse] less than two percent of the time. Fathers, on the other hand, are 16 times more likely to deliberately falsify reports. That, in turn, causes the courts to distrust reports from mothers.
That shouldn’t be surprising. Much like our most powerful leaders, abusers make false reports, deflect, and project. They don’t tell the truth about what they’ve done. They don’t apologize. They don’t take accountability. They lie.
There are people in the world who crave power and control. Most of them will hide their flaws. They’ll deflect the severity of their wrongs. They’ll project their own toxicity into their narratives about others.
If we want to thrive, we must look for leaders who own up to their pasts. We must look for leaders who’ve learned hard lessons. We must look for leaders who accept accountability. And we must stop demanding perfection.
Let’s stop throwing mud. Let’s shine a light into the darkness, accept its ubiquity, accept each other, learn to heal, forgive ourselves, and forgive others.
It’s the only way to move forward.