Gratitude in Public Policy
Friday, August 28, 2015on
As business leaders, we’re used to working hard and seeing results, so when we step into the political ring, the endless debates and rhetorical wrangling are frustrating. Welcome to the legislative session of 2015. This year, many of us stood around in stunned disbelief at the inability of our public officials to get anything done – particularly in an efficient manner. We ask our elected leaders to “do the right thing,” and “exhibit some common sense.” The truth in our state’s politics is: Pro-business legislation is usually enacted despite the business community. Elected officials frequently dismiss business leaders because we commit a mortal political sin: When the vote is over, we shake hands and go back to our next business deal. We leave the political world to its own devices. We never exhibit gratitude. Most of the time, we don’t even offer the most basic thank you when our public officials do the right thing. To keep up with our Southern politeness, we immediately ship off a personal, hand-written thank you note for the bottle of wine we received from an acquaintance. But when our public officials enact legislation that will enhance our competitiveness or save us tens of thousands of dollars, we just walk away. We let our lobbyists or spokesmen do it. That doesn’t have the same effect. When the General Assembly does the right thing – as our House of Representatives did in April by passing a $430 million package to fix our roads – we need to thank them and remember their votes. The small but vocal minority that opposed the business community on the roads vote will remember, and they will vote next year. In June, The Greenville News wrote: A lack of leadership “has left rank-and-file legislators stumbling in the dark; some had boldly signed onto legislation only to find no one had their back.” We asked our leaders to take that vote. We need to have their back. Our political system is trapped in a cycle where the public is fragmenting into polarized camps. The radical populist elements on both ends of the political spectrum are swaying the debate since the most passionate among them spend hours each week engaging in the process. Most of the time, they don’t exhibit gratitude either. In Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary he wrote: “Gratitude is a virtue of the highest excellence, as it implies a feeling and generous heart, and a proper sense of duty.” It’s our duty to stand with our elected officials when they make difficult votes. If we’re serious about trying to influence the debate, we can’t leave when the fight is over. To have true influence on issues in the future, business leaders must get involved and stay involved. There’s too much yelling. There’s too much criticism. There are too many threats. There’s not enough gratitude. Cicero called gratitude the “mother of all the virtues.” University of Virginia Professor James Caeser wrote an essay saying gratitude was an endangered virtue. What can you do? It’s simple. All of our public officials’ contact information is online. For our House members and Senators, you can find it at www.upstatechamber.org. You can drop them a quick email. You probably know many of them through civic organizations, boards, or even hanging out on weekends at the Gower pool (or insert your local swim team name here). Send a text message. Write a Facebook post. Make a quick phone call. If the business community wants to be relevant, we must not let gratitude be endangered in our state. This is an easy way to stand out from the crowd and get things accomplished in politics.