Toward a new ‘Politics of Hope’

Legislative veteran Donna Zajonc sees a united future.

For those who believe the American political system has broken down, Donna Zajonc agrees – but she also sees it as a springboard to a brighter future.

“I think we’re on the verge of the next (political) evolutionary leap,” Zajonc said, comparing it with change as dramatic as the 1960s.

The same way a dying person passes through stages from denial to final acceptance, Zajonc sees current divisiveness and apathy as a stage in political development, with the next being “The Politics of Hope,” the name of her recently published book.

The Bainbridge Island resident writes to the wistful ideal hanging on in people – despite disgust with the current state of politics – to revive the dream in democracy: to serve the people and stay true to principles.

Yet her views are not based on naïveté.

The four political stages Zajonc espouses come from a blend of her own experience as a mental health nurse, her political experience – elected to three terms to the Oregon State Legislature from the age of 28, later running a gubernatorial campaign – and today as a political leadership coach.

Zajonc went through her own bout of “political depression” for more than 10 years, during which she barely acknowledged her own political service. She questioned herself, her belief in the political system and what she had to contribute.

“I was looking through at my own process and hit upon the idea of applying developmental stages to politics,” Zajonc said.

Stage one is anarchy. Zajonc puts current politics in stage two, “Traditionalism,” and stage three, “Resignation.” Traditionalism is a “politics of fear and polarization,” a win/lose and “us vs. them” attitude.

Resignation is a turning inward to immediate families and neighborhoods while dropping out of the political process – working outside politics.

She defines “The Politics of Hope” as the rise of “conscious public leaders,” a collaborative leadership by the many rather than “heroic” leadership by the one – and working from the base that everyone is interconnected and interdependent.

“There’s such a yearning for hopefulness; there’s a tipping point when we choose to be hopeful,” Zajonc said. “If someone who is not hopeful has a place (stage four) to go, that accelerates the new culture. When you have a model you can choose where you want to be.”

Finding hope

At the crux is “the idea of finding hope in time of breakdown,” Zajonc said, “I believe the key is attracting new leaders.”

She points to labor and management having become much more collaborative than a few decades ago.

Similarly in health care, people no long accept the doctor’s word as law and may choose to get a second opinion.

Zajonc believes politics is playing catch-up and emphasizes that being a conscious public leader does not mean running for office, but taking up one’s passion and talents and putting them to use for the greater collective good from the community level upward.

“I’m passionate about a new way of doing people’s business that’s based on collaborative leadership... rather than survival of the shrillest,” Zajonc said. “I believe Americans can create anything we want if we can work together.

“Right now we are in the midst of a ‘cultural civil war’... If public leaders only advocate their own point of view, then there is no room for new possibilities. Instead of red and blue states, we need to see them as purple... take the best of both sides.”

Zajonc says she doesn’t know what the political system will look like in stage four, but there are already those who have made the leap to stage four, such as Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

Closer to home, Zajonc tells the story of King County Councilors Democrat Julia Patterson and Republican Kathy Lambert who have worked out a seemingly improbable collaborative relationship on the council leading to a joint fund-raiser last year.

Through writing the book, Zajonc realized the steps for the second half of her book on how to become a conscious public leader, beginning with an internal search for a spiritual center to find her passion.

Within four months of beginning to write an hour a day, Zajonc found a publisher and is now working on a leadership center as an umbrella for her training and speaking activities with partner David Womeldorff.

Zajonc is now at work on her next book which answers: How then shall we work together?

“I’m not going to let my desire for new leadership stay unspoken,” she said. “I will sow my own seed of service through speaking about what I’m passionate about.”

* * * * *

Mo’ Donna

Donna Zajonc presents a program based on her book Oct. 14 at Eagle Harbor Book Co. with a reception at 7 p.m. followed by a question and answer session and book signing at 7:30 p.m. Information: Eagle Harbor Book Co., 842-5332.

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