By
Chris Breitenberg
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10 January, 2012

Chris Breitenberg (Photo: Mike Brown)
Chris Breitenberg (Photo: Mike Brown)
Chris Breitenberg welcomes the intense personal scrutiny of candidates in the US Republican Primaries and says that we could all benefit from the scrutiny of others to help keep us accountable.

Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and others square off this week in New Hampshire for the second round of the US Republican primaries. The race has gotten tough with the field piling on the frontrunner Romney, ripping his record and persona. He is firing back with ample ammunition via debate and advertisement. It’s a rough and tumble, backyard brawl. At least everyone knew what they were getting into!

I’m not much for the public spectacle that is a political campaign. I often find it depressing that in this era of media sound bites very few ideas are given space for vigorous and thoughtful debate. Too often we boil down our entire political discourse into the most sensationalist tweet of the day. We can, and should, do better.

But one thing I do like about the campaign is that no one gets off easy. Every candidate is scrutinized closely for current and past performance. Between an interested public, a voracious media and the cunning competition of the other players, each entry must face endless challenges and confrontations.

I like this for two reasons.

First, it’s personal. The whole campaign is about that person and their ability to govern the country. Voters consider policies, but they vote on a person. As a result, the race highlights the individual and leaves little room for hiding (try as they may).

Second, it often promotes a higher standard of behavior. Each candidate wants to look good for the supporters they are trying to court. Typically, the public wants them to live up to a high standard. Naturally, people check on a candidate’s capacity and achievement, but they also want to know if that person puts his values in to action. Is she reliable and honest? Does he have courage, loyalty and integrity? Can she work in a team and build bridges in a divided country?

Reflecting on this, I thought of a conversation I had at my dinner table this weekend. As the diners raked over issues from politics and sports to immigration and race, a common theme kept coming to my mind: Accountability.

What stood out for me wasn’t my feeling that I believe society must do better at keeping our public figures and institutions accountable to the task they take up. No. It was more important than that.

Who am I accountable to in my personal life? And how do I go about measuring whether or not I am living up to a higher standard?

At the table, I acknowledged to my companions that I am rarely confronted or challenged, at a personal level, about my behavior. And I also noted that while I don’t want to be under omnipresent surveillance and subject to constant criticism any more than the next man, the truth is, I would probably be the better for it.

I can take the idea of ‘my life is my message’ pretty far on my own terms. But there is nothing like having someone there to help challenge and confront me on the sticky points. Not from a place of judgment, but in a posture of genuine care and questioning.

And I think people would. It’s just that they don’t want to hurt my feelings, don’t want any drama or just want things to be easy. Or some combination of all three and some more. But I don’t think it’s all about them. At some point, I need to make the invitation to be held accountable. It can be pretty hard to hold someone to account unless you feel you have permission to do so.

So as I watch the returns come in this week in New Hampshire and look to hear the latest from South Carolina next week, I’ll watch with a new attention. Outwards, to best understand the candidates and their perspectives and inwards, to challenge myself to live up to a higher standard and to find those who can help to keep me accountable.

Chris Breitenberg, from Virginia Beach, is member of the International Council with a focus on International Communications. He also works in the United States on "Trustbuilding Leadership", an IofC training initiative for university students.

NOTE: Individuals of many cultures, nationalities, religions, and beliefs are actively involved with Initiatives of Change. These commentaries represent the views of the writer and not necessarily those of Initiatives of Change as a whole.

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