Inside – Where to start thinking about the election

‘Inside, inside
That’s the most important part
Inside, inside
That’s the place you’ve got to start.’

– Ian Anderson

Peter, Paul and Mary were an American contemporary folk singing group, formed in 1961 in New York City. They were highly successful, winning five Grammy awards including a Grammy Hall of Fame. There was a great deal of wisdom in the lyrics of their music which reflected hope and activism as champions of peace and social justice. ‘If I had a hammer’ by Peter Seeger and Lee Hayes was one which catapulted them onto the world music stage.

A lesser known song in their repertoire, written by Ian Anderson was called ‘Inside’, released in 1993. It provides some important direction for voters in our democratic elections.

The first verse deals with a children’s birthday party for an 8 year old. The birthday child sees scads of presents from his/ her friends before his/her eager eyes and can hardly wait to see what wonderful treasures are waiting to be discovered within assorted brightly coloured and decorated packages. We can imagine the largest gift to be a gigantic silver and gold bag, sparkly and shiny, with tons of starry tissue paper concealing what lies beneath. Another is of medium size in a bag decorated with images of a favourite superhero, a red and black suited Spider-Man.This package also has 8 chocolates attached to a curly bow. A third is smaller, plainer, a simple organic  brown paper bag but is from his cherished Grandmother. While he is attracted to each gift for different reasons because of its packaging or who provided it, the child cannot name his/her favourite present until he opens up the packages and finds out what is inside.

Elections have some similarity to this commonplace middle class family celebration custom. The young  child, may be attracted to the presents by exterior appearance. Once opened he may find the biggest and shiniest  package not to his liking because it ends up containing a worthless bag full of dry, unbuttered, cold popcorn. The middle sized  Spider-Man bag  when opened might contain black cotton school socks which although useful are rather disappointing. The small brown bag  might  very unexpectedly contain a cheque for eight hundred dollars designated  for his college fund which has major importance for his future educational opportunities and lifetime prosperity. Sometimes among the roster of election candidates there are those who appear big, bright and shiny on the outside but when we get a good look at them inside, they have little substance or worth in character, intellect or work ethic. Other times they appear like the middle sized Spider-Man bag and once we take a look at them on the inside we see their ability and contribution as small, conditional and totally unexceptional. Once in a while, a political candidate is wrapped up in a plain small brown bag but is a mighty force for change, hard work and integrity. In every case only looking ‘Inside’ reveals the true character, genuine motivations and honest effort the candidate will display when we choose him/her as our representative.

Peter, Paul and Mary’s song continues with a verse about a pie contest, suggesting  that a judge cannot choose the best and favourite entry from many that may appear similar, by eating only the crust. The judge must bite into each one and taste the inside filling to determine the absolute best tasting baking creation and hence the winning favourite.

This metaphor also reminded me of the hysterical scene with Octavia Spencer in film entitled ‘The Help’? I recall that her character baked a homemade pie for her former racist, elitist, condescending, privileged white former boss. She led the woman right down the garden path flattering her with gushy disingenuous words when she delivered a ‘thank you’ pie. The woman believed her former employee, hook line and sinker, bit into the pie and only after eating several bites realized the former ‘Help’ had mixed the filling with excrement! The ‘Poop’ pie was not what she had thought it would be and the Help’ had the last laugh along with the audience.

Elections can be likened to the pies in a pie contest and the ‘thank you’ pie in ‘Help’. A voter may buy into a candidate thinking he/she will be the same as a similar one he/she supported before. Despite being advertised as an excellent candidate, the official may not be like the previous one from that group or may not be what he/she appears to be. Much may be lacking in what seems good on the outside or in what was presented as great by someone a voter previously trusted. In play, the elected representative may be an absolutely shockingly dreadful non starter!

So let us learn from this amazing trio’s song ‘Inside’ when an election comes. Let us take some time to find out what is ‘inside’ the candidates we are asked to consider. Let us try to get to an all candidates meeting, or set one up! Let us try to watch or listen to media sources where all prospective representatives speak for themselves.  Let us open the door when they knock and canvass our streets. Let us ask questions and get answers to them. Let us pose to candidates, queries such as those that follow, be satisfied with responses and only then make a decision about where to give our support.

What are the candidates’ observable major personal character traits, especially their integrity quotient? What is their demonstrated intellect, and ability to reason and think through every aspect of a problem and potential solutions? What has made up their life experience and how will that affect their decision making ability? What is and has been their track record for hard work, compassion and empathy for every kind of Canadian? How have they walked the talk in living their values which they say will drive their political performance? What kind of people are backing them, funding them and why? What priorities do they independently think government should set for spending in Canada? What biases are present both for and against their election in the media and why? What access and availability to them by their constituents are they providing now and will they provide if elected? What do they think about leadership that decides for them what they must believe in or support regardless of what their constituents think or what their own well considered conclusions about a policy decision might be? Ask them what they will do when confronted with colleagues who may be corrupt or incompetent in important government positions? How will they help every man, woman and child in the country develop, nurture and cherish primary identities in one unified human family group called ‘Canadians’?

Would it not be something if every elected representative were selected because of his or her own personal merit and genuine commitment to reflect the values, thoughts and needs of their riding, rather than because of the party they are in, the colour of their skin, the presence of XX or XY chromosomes, their sexual preferences, their language, their ethnic heritage, or the way they choose to worship the Creator? Wouldn’t it be amazing to select our entire cohort of leaders because of what is on their ‘inside.’

Peter, Paul and Mary got it right with Ian Anderson’s lyrics…

‘Inside, Inside, that’s the important part
Inside,inside, that’s the place you’ve got to start
That’s where you’ll find the heart of the matter.’