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After the Elections: The Immense Responsibility of the New Leaders

We are after the elections, so on my blog some thoughts on the recent developments and potential future occurrences.

What has happened?

Following a campaign that, in its recent weeks, seemed to drift further from factual discourse and more towards a surge of emotional messages, the United Right (UR) – which has governed for the last 8 years – is unlikely to be in a position to form a government. Concurrently, although the opposition secured a parliamentary majority, their situation remains challenging. Governing alongside a president with veto power, who is presumably unsympathetic to the new administration, and numerous institutions still under opposition control, won’t be straightforward. An ongoing power struggle on multiple fronts is foreseeable.

Socially, it is evident that the UR policy continue to resonate with many Poles – 7.6 million individuals voted for this party (only 5% less than in 2019). There are myriad reasons for such loyalty, but a critical aspect is that these citizens feel that the UR is the only party that truly “sees” them, sees their needs. However, many citizens simultaneously felt it was “time for a change”. This sentiment particularly applies to those who remained politically inactive for years, not exercising their electoral rights. Consequently, on October 15th, over 3 million more people voted than in 2019, marking a record turnout.

In most instances, these individuals did not vote because they were swayed by a specific opposition party’s agenda but for two other primary reasons. Firstly, due to a widespread belief in our country that power inevitably corrupts, and thus, the only societal defense against its consequences is the ROTATION OF POWER. This rotation ensures harmful processes such as cronyism, nepotism, increasing arrogance, etc., are curbed, not allowing them to excessively proliferate. Secondly, because they believed the actions and modus operandi of the UR have surpassed acceptable bounds, especially concerning the APPROPRIATION OF UNIVERSAL VALUES and attempts to provide them with a unique, “only correct” interpretation.

Where are we?

It is normal for political parties to hold different opinions on specific social and economic issues. However, we have reached a point where supporters of one side or the other perceive political elections as a struggle for their very existence. They fear that as a result of the policies of the opposing side, their financial situation will deteriorate significantly, their rights will be restricted, and so on. The propagandistic narrative of recent years has added an additional dimension to this, the belief that the only goal of the other side is to destroy our country; some are alleged to work for Berlin/Brussels in this regard, while others are said to be following a script written in Moscow.

All of this contributes to the growing weakness of our state, manifested in the terms used by some politicians to describe it as a “theoretical state” or a “cardboard state.” Simultaneously, when viewed in a broader perspective, our own historical experiences as well as international ones indicate that the political and social processes accompanying us today are typical symptoms of a declining state. This is an example of a state grappling with a strong internal crisis in the face of unfavorable changes in the external environment (war at our borders, global turmoil, etc.). A crisis that could determine the future of Poland.

What we are currently experiencing is an emanation of what I wrote about nearly two years ago:

“In a situation where the economic foundations are still relatively solid, the main threat to the continuation of this ‘golden age’ lies in socio-political issues: a lack of a common purpose, polarization of values, and low-quality leadership (political elites). These aspects are increasingly having a negative impact on the functioning of institutions and inevitably leading to the erosion of the economic sphere as well. In other words, without radical changes, we can forget about the continuation of the ‘golden age,’ not to mention the threats posed by the current state in the context of global turmoil.”

In this context, the key question regarding the new coalition revolves around whether it will be willing to break this dangerous process and steer the country away from the perilous precipice. Will concrete actions follow the declarations of “we want to build Poland for everyone,” or will a footnote be added, similar to what happened under the UR governance, stating, “provided they share our views”?

What change?

In my opinion, the key issue that will determine our future is whether we can “let off steam” in the realm of politics, halt the processes of polarization, and begin to build the societal foundations of a strong Poland. In other words, whether the current change will be dominated by those who seek quick and widespread retaliation, looking for opportunities not only to hold politicians accountable but also those who voted for and continue to support the UR. If such a scenario were to be realized, it would fundamentally bring about no change; it would only reaffirm our tribalism, indicating that the elections were not so much a vote for building a better, inclusive Poland but a mere exchange of one “tribe” in power for another, with winners and losers at the societal level rather than the political.

This does not, of course, mean that those who have broken the law in recent years should not be held accountable. On the contrary, it is precisely the sense of impunity that causes people in power to lose sight of any boundaries for their behavior. However, holding individuals accountable can easily, if permitted by the leaders of the new coalition, take the form of a widespread “witch hunt,” casting baseless accusations, and so on.

The new coalition – and its leaders in particular – face a colossal challenge. It is mainly their responsibility to “let off steam.” How can this be done? They can, for example, demonstrate their concern for social cohesion by establishing a strong ministry whose task would be to focus on inclusivity issues, ensuring that government policies have an “inclusive” rather than “exclusive” character. By necessity, this ministry would concentrate its attention on those areas where the UR electorate predominates, as these regions face the greatest challenges related to inclusivity (transportation exclusion, access to early education, access to healthcare, etc.).

The leaders assuming power can and should also seek guidance from others, for example, those outlined in the article “7 ideas to reduce political polarization. And save America from itself.” Although it pertains to the situation in the United States, it mirrors our own circumstances. In this article, the authors provide the following recommendations to leaders aiming to lower the temperature of political discord:

  1. Call out your own party. This helps establish boundaries and signals what is acceptable. It is particularly important for leaders of political groups to take this responsibility seriously and not send a signal that “anything goes” in the name of retaliation.
  2. Avoid bad jokes. Jokes have a particularly strong influence on normalizing prejudices, much more so than openly expressed arguments expressing bias. Jokes that employ violent rhetoric or dehumanize others are especially dangerous.
  3. Make social media kinder. Learn how to defuse hate speech – primarily be aware (and act upon it) that you can make others remove hateful messages, limit the spread of hateful memes, and control prejudiced or polarizing speech.
  4. Downplay the fringes and highlight the median. This supports the process of recognizing what unites us (which is actually much more) and allows for debunking distorted perceptions of the other side.
  5. Emphasize disagreement within parties. This makes people aware that differing views are not inherently bad. It’s not the differences that matter, but whether we want and can discuss them.
  6. Help others imagine empathy. Assisting people in empathetically imagining a group they dislike can reduce harmful beliefs about that group.
  7. Avoid repeating misinformation, even to debunk it. Repetition makes our brains consider things as true, regardless of the accuracy of the information being repeated. This tendency is even stronger when people want to believe in false information because our brains seek information that aligns with our desires.

These principles can and should be applied not only by political leaders but also by anyone who cares about strengthening Poland. If we do not change the dynamics of the social processes taking place in our country, we should not delude ourselves into thinking that our fundamental situation will change.

Giraffe Ears

Finally, a personal note. Lately, I had the opportunity to revisit materials on Nonviolent Communication (NVC) principles developed by the American psychologist Marshall Rosenberg. A few years ago, when I first encountered these principles, I, unfortunately, didn’t give them the attention they deserved. The concepts of internal and external “jackal” and “giraffe” ears, while intriguing and worth knowing, didn’t progress into practice. Today, I realize that had I taken the topic seriously back then, I could have avoided many challenges and difficult situations, both in my personal and professional life. I would have been much better at articulating my needs but also recognizing the needs of others. These are crucial elements in effective communication, the kind that leads to “win-win” situations, which are widely needed today.

My own post-election resolution relates precisely to NVC, to internalize its principles on a practical level. I hope that by doing so, there will be more “good conversations” in my life, ones that contribute to problem-solving rather than escalating them. The key insight of NVC is that TO START SPEAKING DIFFERENTLY TO OTHERS, YOU MUST FIRST TRULY HEAR THEM PROPERLY.

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