There was a great sense of national expectation nine months ago when George Lee opted to leave journalism and join the political scene. The overwhelming by-election victory for Fine Gael was testament to people’s hopes for a radically different injection into what has largely been a Fianna Fail political shambles. The resignation of George Lee last week not only bitterly disappointed the 28,000 people who voted for him but it has also burst the balloon of the vast majority of people – with the exception of Fianna Fail supporters! Ethical professional practice is about seeing beyond ourselves and it would appear that George Lee did not see beyond his own ambitions when he decided to step down from politics and return to the limelight of journalism. The people who voted for him are legitimately complaining that nine months in waiting was not an adequate demonstration of commitment. However, what is emerging is that when you are used to the spotlight being shone on you, being in the shadows of the political backbenches wears thin very fast. George does claim that a front bench place was not the issue, but there is a note of ‘I think he protests too much’ in that assertion. Furthermore, if you are waiting around for others to bow to you and tell you ‘you are brilliant’, you can become quickly disillusioned. A person who is mature is comfortable and remains confident whether he is occupying a pedestal position or at the foot of the pedestal. Individuals who have become addicted to celebrity status reveal a deep personal vulnerability and unless this is resolved, they are not in a mature place to see the wood from the trees and their own self from their achievements.
In a book I wrote in 1994 (Self-Esteem, the Key to Your Child’s Future) I advised parents and teachers against praising children (something I had been saying for 30 years) and to praise children’s efforts, rather than saying they are fantastically bright and that they try harder. When children’s sense of self is confused with their achievements and they are put up on a pedestal for their accomplishments, sadly they become addicted to the limelight and very threatened by any fall from grace. George Lee’s seemingly rushed and unplanned exit from politics has all the hallmarks of an individual who, like a flower without light, has been withering away without the sun of fame being shone upon him. His colleague and friend, Charlie Bird – ‘birds of a feather flock together’ – also appears to be entrapped by the addiction to being visible through his work. In Ireland, Charlie Bird was ‘a big fish in a small pond’ but in America he did not cope at all with being ‘a small fish in a very large pond.’ He complained of ‘I don’t know anybody here’; interestingly, George Lee complained of ‘nobody approaches me in here.’ As mature adults it is ourselves we need to get to know; when I’m waiting for someone else to see me I’m unconsciously getting them to do what I need to bde doing for myself. Anonymity does not sit well with individuals who are driven by a constant urge to be visible. I have helped many ‘successful’ males who become suicidally depressed following ‘failure’ and loss of status. These males do not make effective leaders and, certainly, not effective politicians. Not only is their own wellbeing constantly in jeopardy, but their addictive behaviour can become a major threat to the wellbeing of colleagues, voters and family members. Charles Haughey was one such case and part of what is happening in the economy now stems from his egotistical stewardship.
A rite of passage into the political arena is needed so that those who occupy the corridors of political power see beyond themselves and are committed to the greater good of people. Easier said than done because it has not been even remotely accepted that the personal interiority of any individual totally determines their personal, interpersonal and professional behaviour. In truth, only George Lee can fully come to know what brought him into and out of politics – but I am not at all sure that that inner exploration has occurred. Leaders, managers and politicians urgently need to examine their personal vulnerabilities so that their emotional baggage does not become a burden on the people who have put their trust in them. We have seen that trust went out the door of the heads of public bodies, banks, financial institutions and property development companies and, unless, a serious examination of these leader’s inner lives is forthcoming, I do not see the emergence of a more mature Irish society. As regards George Lee, it probably is just as well that he left politics but, my hope is, that when he becomes comfortable in sitting in darkness, he may apply his undoubted skills to the reconstruction of a New Ireland.
Dr. Tony Humphreys practices as a Clinical Psychologist/Author and International Speaker. He is also Director of UCC Courses on Communication, Parent Mentoring and Relationship Studies. His book Whose Life Are You Living is currently available.