Politicians possess an uninhibited willingness to make themselves vulnerable on the battlefield of public opinion. Do you like me? Do you really like me? Politics is a job where other people’s opinions define your success.
It’s increasingly evident that outside of politics this trait is a rarity. The long-running self-help movement might have programmed most of us to believe “it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of me except me because I’m just super perfect the way I am.”
I decided to put this theory to the test recently by posting this question to the “answers” module of the social media website LinkedIn: Do you think others consider you successful?
I should have known a question like that would open a can of defensive, self-righteous journal worms. As the 1980’s “Saturday Night Live” character Stuart Smalley intoned, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and doggone it, people like me!” For the most part, the answers were a mix of “I don’t care what others think” and “How do you define success and therefore I’ve defined myself as successful.” And here I was under the impression that success was akin to winning and winning had measurable parameters.
The main demographic active in LinkedIn answers appears to be employees, managers and small- to medium-sized business owners. After all, the likes of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs don’t have time to answer such questions as, “How do I merge my email addresses?” and “What do you think the meaning of life is?”
I wonder what would happen if some of those larger businesses, the ones with recognizable brands, answered a question such as the one I posed. Could a large company, where success admittedly does depend on being “liked” publicly say, “I don’t care if you think my brand is successful because I do and that’s the only thing that matters”? I doubt it. Like politicians who depend on a majority public vote, big business also requires that people actually care what others think.
Perhaps politicians, even with their tarred reputations of soot and sleaze, are the only ones in our self-created self-help bone yard who are being realistic. Much of their career lives depend on other people’s opinions. Some deal with this reality better than others.
Sharron Angle was one in a large field of candidates in last year’s hotly contested race against Sen. Harry Reid. When it came to this year’s Nevada special election to replace Rep. Dean Heller, in which one Republican will compete against one Democrat (versus last year’s veritable senate candidate circus), Angle called the election “illegitimate” and promptly threw her hat out of the ring. No matter how thick-skinned one is, perhaps it’s comforting to have a crowd of people to hide behind on the battlefield of public opinion.
Other political types seem to exist comfortably within egos at the other end of the spectrum. Recall “Chicken” Sue Lowden’s life-sized rolling portrait on the side of her campaign bus. Memories of Lowden’s work of art flashed back to me recently while watching Sarah Palin’s Picasso portrait on the side of a likely larger bus with a life-sized Constitution on the other side. Some political personalities clearly hope their reflection of self will influence the opinions of others. These two might be on the other side of the moat from the president, yet they seem to have that inflated confidence in common.
But what about us regular Joes? Can we realistically pull off the political warrior act? Sifting through the mix of self-help defiance and the always-popular inspirational quotes, I found this candid answer to my LinkedIn question:
“Don’t know, don’t care. Other people’s opinions mean nothing to me. Unless you are my mother or my wife, and now that my mother has passed that just leaves my wife, I could care less what you think of me, or think of what I am, what I do and what I say.”
This guy should run for president.
Christine Whitmarsh is the owner of local writing firm Christine, Ink. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.