I'm sure politics used to be simpler. (Rob Muldoon. Bad. David Lange. Funny. First past the post. Easy.) But with all the jiggery pokery and resignations and Jacindamania and hoo-ha, it's tempting to feel you need to fill out a spreadsheet to work out who to support. Or maybe, I just need to stop overthinking it? Or not. Argh. Now, I am overthinking this column about overthinking. See, when you overthink, you are never sure about anything. It stops you taking action. So here are some practical things to do instead.
1. Recognise you don't have to know everything about everything.
On Morning Report last week there was a discussion about getting more young people to vote. Apparently many young people felt bewildered; like they didn't have the ability to process all the information in a way that made them feel equipped to choose the leader of the country. They felt they didn't know enough. Megan Hands, a water policy analyst (and also, snazzily, a finalist in the Tasman regional final of the Young Farmer of the Year), suggested voters ignore the beltway bickering and media-driven spin, and just pick one or two or three things that matter to them. Or even to someone else. She advised her cousin, who was a young teacher. "Why not vote for what you think is best for the kids in your class? Personalise it rather than worrying about the big picture."
2. Stop trying to second guess Winston Peters.
We are always being told to vote strategically but what does that actually mean, in practice? I would like to vote for whoever is most likely to ensure Winston Peters doesn't end up holding the balance of power. (Do I need to explain? Apart from anything, he seems to play on people's fears about things like crime and immigration in a most unhelpful fashion.) But it's impossible to compute all scenarios. So maybe just forget all that and vote for who you believe in. While success may depend in part on some things you can't control, you've done what you could do.
3. Go on gut instinct.
Are you voting for Labour because, well, the Bandwagon Effect? (It's also known as groupthink.) Or are you voting National because of Conservatism bias? (favouring the tried and true). Or are you choosing your existing MP based on zero-risk bias? (We love certainty, even if it's not productive.) We all suffer from confirmation bias: we tend to hear information which confirms our preconceptions. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. There is even a bias for that. (Information bias is where the tendency to seek more information does not help us make a decision.) Since you can't compensate for your biases, maybe trust your gut.
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4. Don't go down rabbitholes.
Who could argue that it isn't a good idea to put more money into solving child poverty? I would happily pay more taxes so children are not deprived. Except. Sigh. It's not that simple. As economist Thorstein Veblen pointed out our perception of affluence is not determined by the objective realities of our lives so much as where we rank in relation to other people today. The poorest people in developed countries today enjoy better living conditions than monarchs of earlier centuries. But they don't feel that way. The relativity of wealth means that those at the bottom rungs of a society fare much worse for psychological reasons, even if standards of material prosperity are much higher than in earlier times. You can't easily fix this with more money. The people on the lowest rungs can never catch up. Once you start overthinking like this, any policy seems a bit hopeless.
5. Stop waiting for anyone to have the perfect answers.
Aiming for perfection in anything is unrealistic, impractical, and debilitating. The moment you start thinking "this needs to be perfect" is the moment you need to remind yourself that waiting for perfect is never as smart as making progress. No party is going to offer the perfect solution.
6. If in doubt, follow the example of Uili Papalii.
I think about things too much. I could learn something from Manurewa schoolboy Uili Papali. He couldn't just walk past homeless man Rob Millar. He quietly gave him his lunch every day for two weeks - handing over his homemade sandwiches, chips and fruit to Millar. When he earned $5 for scoring a try he gave that to Millar too. He didn't overthink whether this was a good policy or not. He just did it.