We’re Watching the Politicians

(I’m addled by the furious wrath of the sun, but I’m determined to get out a blog post before the heat stroke takes the last bits of my reason and intellect. I don’t think I’ve gone mad yet, but you’re always the last to know).

There is an experiment discussed in the personal improvement book “The 4-Hour body” that really caught my interest. One of the volunteer test subjects decided that his method of weight loss would be to keep an accurate record of his weight several times a a day, every day. That’s it-no diet changes, no new exercise, just weighing himself and writing the number down every day in the morning and at night. And he lost weight.

I don’t think this is some kind of miracle cure for obesity, and it’s doubtful that this guy was going to see a dramatic long-term loss through simple observation, but it highlights an interesting feature of our human behaviour. Quite simply, we behave differently when observed. One of the best ways to ensure that people straighten up and keep flying right is to watch them and to let them know you’re watching them. No, I’m not advocating round the clock surveillance.

Let’s look at a specific situation. Last week, our city council met for what was promising to be a cavalcade of poor decisions that sacrificed long-term progress for rash penny-pinching. The council members were greeted by a full gallery of citizens who were ready to watch and comment on all of the goings on. There were a fair number of attendees who were focused on a very specific issue (the closing of a tiny but beloved library), and you can always count on that type of focused group to come trooping out to complain, so I imagine they are fairly easy to ignore. But along with these special interest people, there were a large number of citizens who were there to keep an eye on the general business of council. And as they watched, they took notes, and they tweeted each vote and comment. I followed along at home and it was fantastic to have real-time access and reaction to the goings on, and I was able to join the conversation.The next day, I reviewed the council decisions, and I was pleasantly surprised to notice that most of the decisions that had been made were the right ones, even if it contradicted what the earlier committee work had recommended.  It was almost as if the councillors had noticed they were being watched.

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