Why Do We Hold Some People To Higher Standards Than Others?

03/10/2016 17:45

The discussions in the media this week as to whether journalist stings are ethical has raised an even more pressing question - why do we hold officials in any form of public office to higher standards than others?

Stay with me here, because I can already hear the cries of 'if they are in the public eye they should exude exemplary behaviour'. But are we not setting those people up for a fall by placing these heavy expectations on them? They are human after all.

Politicians for example, are expected to lead very straight laced lives. Of course, they are the ones creating the laws that govern this country, so yes they should have certain competencies in their chosen area of specialism, and ethics too (which of course many of them don't but that is a separate issue). However, they are supposed to represent the population. This is a population who may have two selves - a professional self and a social self. For your average Jo Bloggs these two can remain separate, but for those in public office they blur and overlap. Journalists ensure this is the case.

I therefore cannot understand why we expect 'perfect' behaviour of those public figures in their private lives. They are people, the same as you and me. Their faults, flaws, and their mistakes humanise them - and make them more approachable. Politics in particular has too much of a 'them and us' feel about it. In fact, is this not one of the founding principles of the abominable social class hierarchy? It doesn't matter how much someone earns, or how much power they have, as we all belong to the same species, and therefore have the same basic needs, urges, wants, and yes flaws.

This is why apathy is such a large problem in society today. Through putting them up on a pedestal the general public feel as though these people do not understand their lives, their struggles and their flaws. It is the darkest parts of our lives and which make us stronger, more resilient, and moreover more understanding of others. These are qualities we want in our politicians, and how are they supposed to get them without making some poor choices?

We are not talking about the illegal here, we are talking about the morally questionable. No one believes in adultery, people know being blind drunk can lead to embarrassment and regret, and people are aware saying certain words in certain contexts can get them in trouble. But people do all of those things. I want representatives that can relate to the complex struggles of real life, and that can use those facets of themselves to try and help make the world a better place. Every 'sin', if you will, has a reason behind it. Cheating may be a cry for help from a loveless marriage, drinking to excess a sign of despair - trying to bury something that hurt you, and any kind of ill-advised speech a sign of ignorance which needs educating against. It is never just a reckless act, there is always an underlying reason.

At the end of the day, politicians are the agents for change, and yes to a certain degree they should be that change they wish to see to lead by example, but no one can be a perfect shining example of civilisation 24/7. It is wrong of us as a society to expect that, and that expectation leads to these people hiding things - further breaking down trust. Personally, I want them to swear, and fart, and drink, and wear what they like. I want them to be 'normal' - not someone who thinks they are better than the rest of us.

This whole process means we allow our media to report the trivial instead of the significant. We all harp on about the ineptitude of the press, but in their defence, they write what we read. We need to stop our obsession with the personal lives of such professionals, and realise once and for all they are no better or no worse than you and me. The fact they voted for Brexit is far more important than what they had for breakfast, or the fact they lead a debate on ending the gender pay gap rather than who they are screwing.

Although we cannot blame the journalists who expose such behaviours, they are giving us what we want - to see these people stripped back and as 'normal' as the rest of us. But in the process they are villainising them for being human. Instead I blame society, for constructing a social hierarchy which disallows those at the top of the pyramid from the simplest right - human error. We are allowed to make mistakes, and we all become stronger from doing so. This isn't bound by age, social status, gender or any other outdated construct.

Edwina Currie said on Saturday Morning Live this week, that aspiring politicians should start to censor what appears on their Facebook page - drunken photos and the like. This is the wrong attitude to take, to hide things is to further sensationalise their content, and in an age of social media the future generations of politicians are going to be the solution to this problem of pedestalling. If it is all already out in the open there is less of a story. The next generation of leaders will therefore be the most relatable yet, and through that may be able to combat the scourge of apathy blighting this nation.