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Why you should feel sorry for politicians

Well, some of the time anyway—and certainly for the bright ones. Why? Because they're caught in a huge cauldron of steaming ambiguity. 

I lost it during the second leaders' debate on TV3 and ended up shouting at the TV. Moderator Paddy Gower's questions were meant to be razor sharp, with the aim of skewering politicians into 'yes' or 'no' answers or 'gotcha!' traps.

And that's why we should feel sorry for politicians. Some of them know all too well that the issues they're trying to grapple with are unbelievably complex. Child poverty, housing, Covid-19 recovery, Pharmac funding are just some of the complex issues the debate touched on.

What's your Plan B for Covid-19 recovery was an early question. This assumes there's just one alternative to where we are now (i.e. virtually Covid free). But there isn't.

We don't need just Plan B; we need Plans C, D, E and F. And we won't know what they are until we're faced with a unique and complex set of circumstances we can't envisage now. Our world is not just VUCA: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous—it's TUNA: turbulent, uncertain, novel and ambiguous. 

What will the state of the world's economy be by July next year? Your guess is as good as mine. By that time we may well be on to Plan R.

Later in the debate questions about Pharmac assumed a 'fix' of some sort with a stroke of a pen and a bag of cash was possible. Heaven help us. Our health system, including Pharmac, is VUCA and TUNA on steroids.

We face huge wicked problems, ie problems where it's hard to even agree on what the problem is, let alone arrive at an 'answer'. Often we have to inch our way forward and experiment, see what works and go from there.

But how would we react if a politician offered us the following? 'I want to move in this direction. I'm not quite sure how we'll make progress, but I'd like to try a few things, some of which will undoubtedly fail. But trust me to give it a good go.' It's not much of a one-line zinger.

A final bit of ambiguity. We vote emotionally. Who do we relate to? Who do we trust? And I've no problem with that. I just wish our journalists would do a far better at getting to the heart of the real problems politicians (and all of us) have to face and tackle.


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