We’ve all heard about the party Sanna Marin, the Finnish prime minister, attended. This “scandal” comes at an exciting time when Sanna tries to maintain support among Finns while also managing the economic crisis and the country’s response to the war in Ukraine
What are the conflicted parties here?
This event continues to receive a lot of publicity. People seem genuinely interested and intrigued by how Sanna Marin attended a party and was filmed having a good time. Sanna polarised the public, with some reprimanding her for showing a lack of seriousness so often assumed or expected of high officials, some even questioning her ability to manage high-stakes decisions. On the other side are people who applaud Sanna’s positive spirit and desire to just go and have fun. After all, she works hard, so she has the right to party hard. That’s the basic rationale. What does having a good time have to do with one’s ability to make crucial political decisions, her supporters might ask?
How to make sense of this scandal?
Side 1 – Top Officials are just Humans
Both parties are likely to have a point to a certain extent. Like any other human being, Sanna Marin has the right to have fun and relax. Top officials are often under heavy pressure and psychological and emotional stress. These positions are such that other important aspects of life may lose priority (e.g., relationships, leisure, freedom of expression, etc.) Our well-being crucially depends on meeting our needs in all these spheres consistently. And if we (including government officials) do not take care of ourselves, for example, by having enough meaningful social contacts, relaxation time, fun activities, and rest, we risk suffering from dangerous levels of work stress. Thus, from a psychological perspective, it would seem unrealistic to expect politicians to always wear their suits, utter carefully prepared speeches, and be aware of their public persona in absolutely all circumstances. Unless, of course, they were not human or chose to seriously risk neglecting their needs.
Side 2 – Top Officials are Humans with Special Responsibility
But there’s the other side of the picture. Top officials usually reach such positions not by chance and do so arguably via unrelenting determination. With these top positions come significant responsibilities. “It’s about sending the message”, “It’s about what you ‘represent’”, some might say. Top politicians, however they behave, due to their high profile and influence, inevitably send a message to their audience, whether they like it or not. Some seem to be very focused on managing this and carefully controlling any type of messages they send out to the world (e.g., limiting or eliminating the amount of material from their private lives going into the public domain). It’s also arguable that Sanna Marin knew what happens when politicians are filmed when they’re partying hard. And although perhaps Sanna didn’t intend to make her partying public, the video got out, and it was as if Pandora’s box had opened.
So, while it would sound unjust to tackle Sanna Marin because she decided to have some much-needed fun, it is possible to also understand those who criticise her for her lack of political shrewdness. Who knows, perhaps this was all planned, and Sanna wanted to make a little fuss? After all, the leaked video shows Sanna aware that she was being filmed. Could this be a calculated move to foster Sanna’s image among young people in Finland? Enough with speculating.
What’s our final take?
In any case, criticisms of Sanna Marin’s decision to have fun and let herself be filmed while doing so can only be confined to her apparent lack of political shrewdness, her ‘naivety’, or maybe even courage, to believe the public can accept her not just for her political accomplishments, but in her whole, raw humanness.
Perhaps this event is precisely what we needed to remind ourselves that politicians, including prime ministers, are just humans with regular human needs. If we can embrace this perspective, what Sanna did, can finally appear as simply engaging with an activity that would arguably lift her mood, connect her to other people in her life, allow her to blow off steam from her high responsibility role and, more generally, take care of herself.