Do You Know the Difference Between Political and Personal

Learning the difference between political and personal is key for self-knowing


The Costa Rica Update

fallsAs the Butter Flies

Great week for a bit more hiking, spotting things like blue butterflies, and finished the week working with a client here in Costa Rica. Moving south in a few days, and beginning to think about Canada January 27.



political and personal
One of the reasons Darbella and I are in Costa Rica is to figure out the “What’s Next?” question.

Dar retired from teaching, after 31 years, back in June. We’ve been exploring both the geographical and the “what” question for several months now.

The interesting part of this is that there is a strong mix of business questions (what do we want to do, in which physical location?) and personal questions (what do each of us want to do that is fulfilling to us — that feeds our vocational drive?) And then, there’s the ever-present question: “Is what we are doing going to pay the bills?”

That last one used to (a couple of decades ago) keep me up at night. Now, not so much.

The real issue is the recognition that there are two realms in operation at all times, which my buddies Ben Wong and Jock McKeen (see The Relationship Garden and in The New Manual for Life) (affiliate links) dubbed the Political and the Personal.They broke the terms down into lists — not a good/bad list, but rather to differentiate between, for example, strength (personal) and power (political.)

Each have their place.

We get into trouble when we misunderstand the situation, and apply, say, a power move when strength would have been more helpful

What I’m getting at is that we need to learn the skill or nurture the ability to perceive our location, and to understand the dynamics of the political and the personal arenas.

Here’s a brief explanation, from a e‑mail I wrote:

I guess, on the strength vs. power debate, the choice to be strategic without taking the battle personally, (a’la The Art of War — good book) is a move from personal integrity to manifestation.

I wouldn’t want to live my life without a mix of power and strength. Strength belongs to intimate relationships, and politics can’t exist there, or “must be weeded out.”

I would not choose to necessarily engage in an intimate relationship with, say, those with whom I do business. I engage in a political relationship, from a place of outcomes, not from a need to be right.

I’m looking to strategize the situation to the benefit of the “business at hand,” and am going towards a goal, not an intimate relationship.

So, in our business life, and especially with “bosses,” there is a need for a common political alliance, or at least an informal peace treaty, not intimacy per se.

For people on the path of self-understanding, one of the issues seems to be, “How do you do what, with whom.”

As we wind our way along this path, we might desire clear and open, intimate communication all the time, and many initially want to have “deep” relationships with everyone. I’ve been saying for years that this is not possible.

In my personal life there have to be limits — in my business life — perhaps there is another set of parameters altogether.

Business — political

politicalPolitics — It’s about the leap

I joke that I am not required to be in intimate conversation with the grocery clerk. In other words, what I am feeling or what I am interpreting is not relevant when all I want to do is pay for groceries. I often choose to be engaging, attempt to listen clearly and respond elegantly to the clerk. I remind myself not to deal with this person “in their role,” but rather as a human being engaged in a role.

The same applies to my work life. I am in intimate dialogue with those who choose to work with me — however, this differs from an intimate relationship. In dialogue, I am demonstrating how elegant and deep communication works. In Bodywork, I am helping to remove physical and emotional blocks. The relationship is built upon the bedrock of the political — there is an agenda — a goal — our eyes are on the destination, as opposed to simply enjoying the walk.

Thus, the relationship is not reciprocal nor “equal” — the person I am working with, by virtue of the contract we have, is there to learn. That implies I have something to teach, or in the case of Bodywork, a skill I am paid to employ.

This means that the relationship, despite the intimate dialogue — we talk about ourselves, and share feelings and insights quite deeply — despite this, the relationship is “power / politically” based. Within this milieu, I work from a place of “knowing.” I, when all is working well, become the “good parent.”

Same thing happens when I do business consulting. I may be teaching good communication, I may be demonstrating ways of dealing with crisis and the attendant emotions, but I doing this from the position of a teacher. In that role, I am working, I trust, benevolently within a power-based relationship.

In these examples, it is my goal to establish a framework for the other person’s self-knowoing — I am teaching empowerment as they gain the power and strength to make better choices.

Intimate Relationships — Personal

personalPersonal — intimate dialogue

I am equally “clean” in my intimate relationships. An intimate relationship requires, as its main elements — presence, the willingness to “stay put,” total honesty, and intense curiosity.

This means that I don’t and can’t know anything for sure. My goal is to communicate what my present understanding of my own process is. Yet, I occasionally notice my tendency to “problem solve and advice give” (the realm of politics) within my intimate relationships. My task is to discipline myself to listen and respond without becoming political.

This is primarily a “location” issue

No one, in a work situation, ought to be trying to “get to know me.” At work, our goal is to systematically and clearly engage in activities that benefit the bottom line.

I know for a fact that companies that encourage the use of a communication model that allows for free expression and which limits personal criticism has a better chance at achieving their goals. But when I “go in” to a company, my goal is not to develop intimacy. My goal is to resolve sticking points. I will do whatever is necessary to achieve that goal, without compromising my integrity. I will use The Art of War metaphorically and engage in the battle to achieve a positive outcome. If participants take what they learn into their own intimate circles, terrific!

In my personal, intimate relationships, I will engage fully. If I am scaring myself, I will move forward into the fear. If I am reluctant to be open, either physically or emotionally, I will open further. If I fear the consequences of honesty, I will be honest. If I think I know anything at all about my partner, I will give myself a shake. I will express my needs openly and clearly.

And I will work diligently at not confusing the political and the personal. I need to know, at all times, where I am located.

It’s not that one or the other — political or personal — is better. It’s that one or the other is more appropriate, situationally. I’ll close with a quote from Ben & Jock:

The objectified self serves the Self very well; it is worthy of being honoured rather than reviled. It is only when people wish to create an intimate relationship that they will find themselves wanting”¦ Hopefully, people will be able to choose the appropriate modus operandi in each situation. Again, to repeat, nothing is ever right or wrong; some behaviour is ineffective, or inappropriate to getting what you want or where you wish to go.”

The Relationship Garden, page 47


Make Contact!

So, how does this week’s article sit with you? What questions do you have? Leave a comment or question!

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.