I attended a meeting last week, on behalf of a client, with four members of the Swedish Parliament. The substance of the meeting is not important here.
The Members of Parliament showed up in jeans and sundresses, no doubt happy that they were in a place where they could dress that way. There were no staffers, just the MPs, and they introduced themselves to us with their first names: one was Lena, one Matilda, one Veronika, one Anders.
They were remarkably unimpressed with themselves.
And it struck me after years of having worked for Members of Congress and Senators whom we, as campaign and legislative staff would be required to refer to as “The Congressman” or “The Senator.” Even when I worked in LA City Hall for a member of the City Council, we were supposed to refer to her as “The Councilwoman,” as if she didn’t have a first, or even a last, name. It always bothered me to have to represent her that way to people who had known and worked with her for decades. I’ve known my current City Councilman for over 15 years, and when I speak to his staff, I always refer to him by his first name.
Elected officials in the US hold themselves out to be more important than us normal folk. Despite the fact that only a tiny fraction of people vote regularly, which indicates that people don’t see or feel the connection between their lives and the function of government, elected officials put themselves on a pedestal – when they should instead be down here working collaboratively with the people they (purport to) represent. And they seem to forget the fact that they work FOR those people – US. Wouldn’t it make sense that one should be able to refer to those who work for them by their names, not their titles?
Elected officials have earned a modicum of respect through the election process, but when we can’t simply address each other by name, I think the demand for respect has gone too far – and I think it only enlarges the distance between real people and government officials.
After we wrapped up our meeting with the Swedish Parliament Members, we chit-chatted with them about their backgrounds. One had been a teacher, one a political party operative, one a social worker. And one had been a grocery store worker. Their humility was not just refreshing – it was how they approached their job. It seems that without the self-imposed barrier of self-importance, they probably communicate better with, collaborate better with, and represent their constituents better than American politicians ever have.