One of the many things I learned about while working in politics is chasing rabbits. It’s a pretty simple game – every time you see a rabbit you must chase it. It’s a bit like those ‘whack-a-mole’ games they used to have at amusement parlours, or the talking dogs in the Pixar movie Up, who get distracted by squirrels mid-sentence.
In politics, every day throws up new rabbits to chase. It could be a story breaking in the newspapers that you can chase follow-up media on, you could be invited to be a guest of honour at an event, or have an idea for an interesting story to pitch to a journalist, be asked to intervene by a constituent, hold a street stall on a burning issue of the day – the list goes on. When you’re a small party with each MP covering multiple portfolios, these factors multiply to a degree where it is simply impossible to chase down all the rabbits.
When you’re doing something all the time, you can feel like you’re achieving something. But are we achieving what we want to achieve?
Because if that’s all we’re doing – rabbits breed like rabbits, after all – we haven’t had time to sit down and plan which rabbits we want to be chasing – the black ones, the brown ones, the ones with myxomatosis – or even to decide if we’re only chasing rabbits because other people seemed to be, and, when we sit down and think about it, we may find we don’t much like rabbits after all.
Measuring outputs in politics can be difficult. Elections are brutal job interviews/reviews every 3-8 years – where politicians either keep their job or get the sack – but their job description doesn’t exactly come with performance indicators.
So then what’s more important for reelection and, presumedly, positively affecting public policy? Is it being on the radio, attending an event, writing a letter to a Minister, speaking in parliament, dabbling in internal party politics, running a campaign, launching an inquiry? Is the most important issue to focus on planning or education or mining or housing or transport or social services?
If I look at my life I have similar questions – I’ve also only got a limited amount of time and an excess of opportunities: what issues should I focus my activism on? What books should I read? What exercise should I do? Which social event do I go to? Which video of cute animals being cute should I watch on the internet?
The answer of course, both politically and personally, is a combination of a variety of factors. But I can’t work out which combo works best for me if I’m always chasing rabbits. It’s why it’s so important, every now and then, to stop everything, to reflect, learn, prioritise and change direction if necessary.
I’m never bored – there’s always something to do – but I often struggle with making sure that enough of what I’m doing is working towards my handful of long-term goals.
I’m interested in what people do to stop themselves chasing rabbits unnecessarily. If you’ve got any great tips, please share!
These piece was republished by activist health & well-being organisation Plan to Thrive on 24 September 2014 here.