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Politics: from the belly of the beast to the depths of our hearts

Friend Chris Demwell passed along Kai Nagata‘s personal, detailed, and insightful blog post chronicling the change of heart and realizations that prompted him to leave his position at CTV News. His post flits between the critical, large-scale, and the intimate, small-scale, in a way that really speaks to me and reminds me of what I like to do with my own writing — though, him being a journalist, he is definitely more readable.

Highlighting a few of the parts that really got me (emphasis mine):

Human beings don’t always like good nourishment. We seem to love white sugar, and unless we understand why we feel nauseated and disoriented after binging on sweets, we’ll just keep going. People like low-nutrition TV, too. And that shapes the internal, self-regulated editorial culture of news.


I have serious problems with the direction taken by Canadian policy and politics in the last five years. But as a reporter, I feel like I’ve been holding my breath. Every question I asked, every tweet I posted, and even what I said to other journalists and friends had to go through a filter, where my own opinions and values were carefully strained out. Even then I’m not sure I was always successful, but I always knew at the CBC and subsequently at CTV that there were serious consequences for editorial. Within the terms of my employment at CTV, there was a clause in which the corporation (now Bellmedia) literally took ownership of my intellectual property output. […I]f I ever said anything out of line with my position as an “objective” TV reporter, they had grounds to fire me. I had a sinking feeling when I first read that clause, but I signed because I was 23 and I wanted the job. Now I want my opinions back.

I’ll say off the bat that my views don’t completely mesh with any one political party. I’m not a partisan operative and I never was.

Nagata is touching on something that deeply resonates with my own understanding of politics — a distate for partisan politics and overly-politicized conversations on policy. It permeates and poisons the idea of participation in politics, and what I notice most damagingly, it puts what I feel is the worst foot forward when it comes to modelling the practice of democracy for newcomers to the country. It drives me a little nuts that nuance is constantly sacrificed, but I liken it to a human limit on the precision of collective action, Planck-constant like.

He’s also highlighting another thing that strikes me about those who embrace the concept of the intrapreneur: those who enter into institutions into an attempt to better improve, inform them, re-jig, re-engineer or reform them. My foray into this area is shallow, but my understanding is that one internalizes, deeply, the values and desires of those organizations and institutions, and to steer outcomes and actions by  framing them according to what matters to said institution. It’s strategic and persuasive and requires an unbelievable amount of savvy and patience. And it requires us to compartmentalize what we do: there are those things we get to do that speak to what we truly believe in, the things we want to push forward, and the changes and outcomes we want to see; and the other part that pays rent, keeps the institution rolling along the path its already cut, and doesn’t visibly challenge an institution directly enough to be perceived as a threat.

Nagata responds to this feeling directly at the end of his post as well:

I know I can’t go back to working parallel to the real problems, hiding my opinions and yet somehow hoping that one viewer every night might piece together what I wanted to say. I thought if I paid my dues and worked my way up through the ranks, I could maybe reach a position of enough influence and credibility that I could say what I truly feel. I’ve realized there’s no time to wait.

On a similar note, Sacha graciously responded to a comment I left her on a post she wrote about Embracing her inner Pollyanna. I asked to get her thoughts on how she maintains her can-do attitude, with a blog post called Living in an Imperfect World. Her approach is sound and wise, and is a good reminder not to get caught up in judgments of effectiveness.

It’s prompting me to re-examine my chosen narratives of how change occurs, what the bigger story is for what I contribute, and how who I am fits into all of that — not completely dissimilar to the process Nagata describes for himself next. The closer I get to the institutions, the more intimidating they look as they stretch away from me into the sky.

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