Election posters, freedom of choice and personal development

The local and European elections take place later in May and the campaign hustings and hustlings are in full swing.

It got me thinking about the people peering out from the election posters.

There’s a campaign of a different type under way around Ireland to get candidates and constituencies to sign up to become poster-free zones, as part of an environmentally aware movement aiming to crack down on single use plastics.

Without posters candidates may well double or treble the number of leaflet drops as they try to get their name and face into the collective consciousness.

This political PR drive appears to be an ever-present attribute of living in a free democracy.

To misquote someone much wiser than me, democracy might be terrible but it’s the best we’ve got.

The people seeking election are a mix always of the great and the grotesque. People so selfless that they give everything of themselves for the betterment of their society, and people so selfish that running for office is the obvious manifestation of their power-hungriness and self-aggrandisement.

It can be hard to know the difference from a poster smile. A doorstep conversation is informative; the opinion of someone you respect even more so.

Public office may be the best we’ve got when it comes to democracy, and democracy might have lots of imperfections but it has lots of incredible upsides too.

Those of us fortunate to live in free and democratic societies — and this advice is squarely for myself first and foremost — would do well to thank our lucky stars to have arrived at this point in history after all the decades and centuries of dominion and oppression. Things are not perfect. Far from it. But things will never be perfect, and constant cycle of improvement continues to gather pace.

But as people we’re bigger than just democracy too. Democracy happens around us and for us, but for the most part most of us don’t pay it much attention.

Democracy is about the collective, but as individuals, we have so much power too.

We can make things better — for ourselves first, for those around us next, for society and the world last — every waking hour of every day. A small gesture, a decision to do things just slightly differently, a commitment to that decision.

If personal development, the very concept of you as an individual striving to make yourself and your situation and the environment around you better, is new to you, it’s okay to start selfishly.

It’s not just okay, but necessary, to start with yourself.

Running for public office is one way to make things better.

But it’s not the only way. It might not even be the best way.

The mix of the selfless, tireless community workers and the power-hungry local Napoleons might smile down from election posters, but you’ve got the real power of individual choice about what to do, think and say.

At election time and everywhere else too.