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Mark Fletcher-Brown

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Dare to Ever be Yourself?

Posted: 5/09/2011 09:10

Poor Mr. Brown.

Our former Prime Minister is subject to another onslaught from someone who used to work with him, and who is now, it appears, prepared to tell it like it was. Who cannot help but sympathise?

Of course, many will argue that knowing how things really were in Downing Street is in the public interest. And for those who say, "it's all in the past so it matters not", we can only sigh with regret for we all know that the past always informs the present. Nobody in the Labour Party will be jumping for joy over this publication.

But put what may or may not have happened aside - all one-sided stories are to be doubted - this raises a deeper question about how we should live our lives, particularly when we have to do very hard things. Specifically: should we ever be able to be ourselves and say what we really think?

Or should we fear that at some point all the mistakes we have ever made could, at some point, come back to haunt us?

For most of us this is not a matter of national concern. But it happens all the same. Anyone who has gone through a relationship failure will know that a remark made passing ten years before could become the basis for what might feel like an international summit. People remember things. Some people actually store such memories up on the assumption that they could use them at some point in the future. We've met people like this and largely, they're better avoided.

But unless we're on the brink of world-wide fame, what we may or may not have said as we prepared for our High School Prom, won't matter. Ever.

Those who take leading roles in public life face an altogether different challenge. People who aspire to high office must continually re-write the past - or be boring from the outset. After all, les gens ordinaire do this every week, tweaking, tucking and equivocating when they present their CVs. You might like to browse Peter Oborne's book, The Rise of Political Lying.

Some things have to be surgically removed from politicians' pasts. Those who have imbibed too much, smoked things they ought not to have, liaised with people whose futures have turned out to be less than salubrious - they all must apply Tippex heavily and hope for the best.

Twas easier before the internet. Now, Google provides in seconds what teams of journalists might have taken months to achieve - a lurid history.

Put to one side the mistakes of youth and we're still left with an uncomfortable question: should you ever really trust anyone? After all, the person who knows you the most could damage you commensurately.

Political allies must live in fear of the day when both compete for the same job. Uncomfortable truths are bullets, are they not?

But we expect too much I fear. We expect politicians to think the unthinkable. We expect them to ask questions we'd never dare to utter. We look to them for answers and solutions to problems that appear to us utterly insoluble. If, in pursuing answers their tongues are tied by possible hostages to fortune, what are we to do?

Should we rather trust those who are perfect in every way, who have nothing in their past that could embarrass them, who have always done the right thing, who have always formed the right relationships, who have never had to learn from mistakes?

What does that kind of unerring virtue tell us? Maybe it says that they are people whom we should follow, those who were always born for greatness. Or it could say that they have learned nothing from their own mistakes and will, at some point, be forced to learn from ours.

Or maybe it's a bit more sinister - that they are people who are as imperfect as we are but never trust anyone, not even those closest to them, with anything. Maybe there's such a thing as being too perfect.

At the heart of all this is our appetite for the dark side of life. We want to know that those who lead are as flawed as the rest of us. It's denial of a basic truth that creates the thirst for such material in the first place.

Every time a leading figure puts up a front and asserts that they above human life - the anger, the greed, the revenge, the hate, the envy - then we look for chinks in the armour, we want to establish hypocrisy.

Better to admit flaws from the off. "Yes, I've had a tough life. I've lived, like you have lived. I don't expect you to admire everything I've done - I'm not proud of much of it. But instead judge me by how I've been able to change your life for the better."

Kind of works, doesn't it?

 

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Around the Web:

Gordon Brown - Telegraph