Voting Wisely

My intention is not to pose a political opinion here, but from a behavioural science point of view consider how the current political climate and events can teach us important life lessons.

On 20 March 2019 a record number of 48 parties had registered candidates for the national parliamentary election (as announced by the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC)). This is 19 more parties that contested the 2014 national elections. It is evident that democracy is alive and well in South Africa, a bit too much so, some would say.

On the other hand, many of the smaller parties are splinter groups of some of the bigger ones. It paints a picture, not only of healthy freedom of expression and diversity of opinion, but also a history of struggle, division and disunity. Even, and maybe especially, in the current ruling party infighting, faction forming and disagreement are in the order of the day. And we know from experience that where disunity prevails, kingdoms fall apart.

For a lot of voters this is a challenging situation with difficult decisions. Firstly, should I vote? I think the answer is “Yes, of course”. Sitting on the fence and pointing fingers without participating is a cop-out, an easy escape. Taking part, forces you to think about your values and desired future. That, by itself, lifts your level of awareness and responsibility, which is clearly a good thing. In fact, no personal growth is possible without that.

But, when it comes to voting, you are, on a cognitive level, torn apart by especially two important aspects: (1) Principles and values you feel strongly about, and (2) Practical and tactical considerations such as supporting a strong opposition, political competence and skill of some of the smaller parties, and track record. On an emotional level there are so many influences, depending on your own cultural and educational background, the relational circles you are in (peer group influences), as well as the many “voices”, opinions, messages and images you are bombarded with (marketing and campaigning). But there is also your own emotional and personality dynamics that will strongly play its role and influence your vote.

A Challenge to grow: So, therefore I would like to encourage you to use this coming election to get honest with yourself about your thinking and behaviour. Get to know more about yourself and the way you want to make important decisions. Let me call it by the fancy term of “meta-decision” – making a decision about your decision-making process. That’s similar to what they call “meta-cognition” which is thinking about your thinking process.

The idea is that if you want to think better (at a higher level) and renew your mind, you have start thinking about your thinking, acknowledge the flaws and weaknesses in your thinking, and then employ better ways or techniques to think. Most of us just stick to our old “stinking thinking”, and instead of improving we keep on justifying the way we think, and stay stuck in our ways. But it does not have to be that way. The same goes with decision-making. Honestly decide how you want to process your decisions in life, then apply it to this coming election, evaluate the outcome, learn from it and become, not only a better thinker and decision-maker, but also a voter that can live with the vote(s) you have brought out.

To a large extent, our lives are the results of our decisions. Better decisions will directly and indirectly lead to better lives. Good luck and lots of blessings on a great life you can be proud of!