One of the biggest things in the media at the end of last year in Australia was the political citizenship saga. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that a whole whack of politicians have been stripped of their positions and removed from parliament due to having multiple citizenships. By-elections have been held, throwing politicians out and having them campaign for their jobs.

It’s been an amazing problem to watch unfold, really… and it’s likely not over, with a number of parliamentarians still under scrutiny, likely to be targeted when the next sitting year begins.

I’ve seen a lot of press, listened to a lot of interviews, and heard a lot of talk about how unfair the system is – mostly by the same politicians who might be affected by it. There is one problem with that: it’s the same system they preside over. Hypocrisy at its finest, these politicians know the rules and yet complain about having to follow them when they get caught out.

I’d have to agree with some of the sentiment; the system is not exactly fair. As a nation of immigrants, it isn’t the best idea to put people with immigrant histories through the proverbial ringer before they can run for office. Command and control for the sake of command and control. That being said, I have seen similar issues around legal requirements being met with hard penalties for non-compliance out in the corporate world. If these requirements aren’t met, you cannot trade – period. You can even be fined and go to jail for deliberate non-compliance in some cases. From a Systems Thinking perspective, these things are things that are considered valuable, because if you don’t do them, you cannot do anything else, including servicing your customers.

So this begs the question; why didn’t these politicians actually do what they were legally required to do in the first place?

There are a number of answers to this question, but the one that is the most accurate is that they were encumbered by measures and targets. So encumbered in fact, that they might not have even realised they were racing towards disaster.

Let me explain this…

Politicians like the rest of us, are driven by their personal and professional values. Some of these values might change, grow, or be refined as one gets older, wiser, and put through the ever churning experience-wringer… but they remain in all of us. They are in fact what make us who we are. We all have rules that we build our lives around, that we absolutely will not bend or break, and others can be flexed or substituted as better options are discovered.

These values are built off our experience, in stages as we grow throughout our lives. As children, many of our core beliefs come from our experiences at a young age, defining our reactions and responses, creating our trajectory through life. Then as we grow, we build on them, creating our view of the world. Things like how we define love or happiness are innate to our being – and we learned these values as we all grew, defining them for ourselves. Unique to the last, ever single one of us. Our environment can make us all grow in similar ways, though.

Take money for example: our perceived value or definition of wealth may drive us to do very interesting things throughout our lives. Depending on the definition, when pushed to breaking point, we might even do immoral or illegal things in order to gain or retain that wealth. Values that can bend will be bent in order to meet the needs of the ones that cannot. In order to measure and attain their target of wealth, less important things are cast aside.

So, this leaves us with a swathe of people in positions of power. Maybe they have been blinded by achieving the targets of their core values that they have overlooked, or in some cases possibly ignored the requirements of their office and their constituents – their customers.

The unsurprising yet unsavoury truth being exposed by the citizenship crisis is also unfortunately simple. Politicians who have been caught out by a silly rule that shouldn’t really exist in a nation of immigrants, have done so because they didn’t do their due diligence, as they were blinded by meeting their own personal and professional value targets and measures. They were selfish, and now the electorate – their customers – have to respond to this failure.

It’s a wonderful example of Structural Dynamics and Systems Thinking crossing paths to show how behaviours, driven from the top and left unchecked, can ruin it for everyone else.

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