A new prescription for coalition-building

PERSPECTIVES: I wonder whether a new and different force majeure might serve better for creating a coalition to lead the 19th Knesset

Peres, Netanyahu present award 370 (photo credit: Koby Gedon/GPO)
Peres, Netanyahu present award 370
(photo credit: Koby Gedon/GPO)
On Saturday night, President Shimon Peres gave Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu a two-week extension to put together a coalition. Israel’s most important game has entered overtime.
For us in Israel, politics are tantamount to sport; politicians are the equivalent of star athletes, and cultish attention is paid to elections and appointments, not unlike the hoopla surrounding Hollywood’s Oscar-winner selection.
According to reports, the impotence of Netanyahu’s coalition-building hovers between the paralysis of the behemoth Knesset and the inability of our political parties to get along. The upshot is, understandably, a sense of inertia. But could there be a healthier approach to our parliamentary process of coalition building? I’ve been blogging about the book Strengthsfinder 2.0 by Tom Rath. Perching atop The Wall Street Journal’s bestseller list for more than a year, the book makes a case for potentiating talents and abilities by accounting for strengths and weaknesses.
Although known as a leader in the Positive Psychology movement, Rath acknowledges that all of us do have weaknesses. He doesn’t, however, suggest that we invest a lot of time in remedying those weaknesses. He emphasizes, instead, the idea that, when all human beings have fortes and foibles, solutions may lie in what might be referred to as “complementarity.” That is to say that, in relationships – such as marriage or workplace affiliations – people are most likely to thrive when they seek out partners who compensate for their weaknesses.
Each of us appear to be wired with an innate ability to complement and thereby enhance the capabilities of others. In the scientific literature of oncology, my profession, we refer to the process as “dyadic coping.” The most successful dyads, or units of two – typically, for us, one cancer patient plus one significant other – consist of individuals who help overcome the Achilles’ heels of their partners. When, so often, like cancer patients, governments find themselves mired in crises, perhaps dyadic coping, or complementarity, holds answers.
IN SPIELBERG’S Lincoln – a movie that perhaps should have won the Oscar for Best Picture – a case is made that part of the 16th US president’s success stemmed from his ability to fashion an effective cabinet. Lincoln apparently handpicked his cabinet secretaries to complement each other. History, as a result, compliments president Lincoln for many accomplishments.
I’m a medical scientist, not a political scientist, but having worked for decades with cancer patients in crisis, I wonder whether a new and different force majeure might serve better for creating a coalition to lead the 19th Knesset. Like president Lincoln, might Netanyahu focus on complementarity and convince others to do the same? Might he draw a talented team of players from politicians not only eager to employ their strengths to mitigate their cohorts’ weaknesses but also open to accepting input where they, themselves, may lack? And, as citizens, what is our attitude toward the weaknesses of our politicians? Within our wide range of political parties, we have no shortage of bright public servants working to make constructive differences. They all, undoubtedly, have both strengths and weaknesses. Rather than our being put off by any weaknesses, might we embrace them as opportunities for growth? Might this result in what physicians describe as a synergistic or even “super-additive” effect? I don’t know of anyone who wants more than 120 Knesset members, but no one would mind, I think, if performance among the lawmakers we have were to qualitatively improve. Building a coalition based on complementarity rather than, for example, ego or ideology, may be precisely what the doctor – and the public – prescribed.
The author is professor of oncology at Tel Aviv University and chairman of the Institute of Radiotherapy at Tel Aviv Medical Center. His blog (“52”) is featured on the website of The Jerusalem Post.