How to Be a Good Representative
Are you someone who has been given (and accepted) responsibility for someone else’s well-being? Maybe you are an elected official? A board member? A parent? A friend? If so, you may resonate with the following realization I just had about my own successes and failures in the role of Representative.
I used to believe that what a Representative does is to act and react as if they were the one being represented. I felt like my job was to get inside their head, and channel them, sort of like a medium or a conduit. The problem with this though is it always ends badly. Why? Because it’s an impossible job.
Nobody can speak for you, as if they were you. Sure, if you know one another really, really well, then at times it can seem as though they read your mind, know what’s in your heart. But the times I have been most frustrated in any relationship is when the other person believes and acts as if they know what I want, what I value, but they really don’t. It’s also frustrating when the other person is so unsure of what I want or believe that they ask me a million questions, or do nothing because they fear being wrong.
So how to do the impossible job well? The realization I had is that a true Representative, a good Representative, is someone has agreed to take responsibility for a pre-determined, mutually agreed upon, finite set of roles, decisions and actions on behalf of the represented. Not “as if”, but “for”. The difference is subtle, but profound.
When you act for me, you don’t ask yourself what I would do in that circumstance; you do what you know is best for me. It just so happens that I have already agreed that whatever you choose to do, I trust that is in my best interest. Part of that trust, is knowing that I may not agree with your decisions or understand how they are good for me. In fact, it’s guaranteed that there will be some part of your decisions on my behalf that I will feel are wrong — after all, I’m not YOU, I can’t fully understand what’s in your heart or mind.
I used to think that to be a good Representative I had to make good decisions for those I represent. Now I realize that as long as I follow what I know to be right in my heart, it’s a good decision by definition. Because the word “good” cannot apply to my decisions on your behalf; it can only apply to your decision to ask me to represent you, and my decision to accept.