When I was a teenager, I bussed tables at a local pub in Sarasota for a couple of weeks. It only lasted that long because I was fired for needing too many days off to travel to rowing regattas with my team, which I had given them a schedule ahead of time.
I accidentally spilled a bunch of ketchup out of a container while trying to pour it into one of the squirt bottles to refill it and that was the final straw. I was out. That was the worst job I’ve ever had.
When people ask me if I have any interest in running for office, I often think about that pub. It was on the water, the tips were good money and the work wasn’t overly difficult though it would have helped if the ketchup bottles were bigger. I want to make sure that stays the worst job I’ve ever had, however, and elected official would almost certainly surpass it.
Both sound good in theory. We are fortunate enough to have our elected officials, with few exceptions, put far more time, effort and energy into the positions than what is required, but most of the jobs are as demanding as you make them.
While you do get the steady stream of complaints, most public appearances are met with respect and deference. Like the job at the pub, many aspects of it seem rewarding. The truth is, though, much of it is not.
Let’s pause here. This may have triggered a defensive dismissal. “It’s what they signed up for,” you might be thinking. Maybe you’re relying on the old, “they need to remember that they work for me so they should listen when I tell them what to do.” Good luck trying that logic with the public employee next time you get pulled over.
There is a difference between self-serving and leading, but self-serving doesn’t look like what we think it does. Most citizens are hyper-sensitive to blatant corruption, yet the most common self-serving behavior is an elected official telling you what you want to hear rather than what you need to hear.
I’ve often used the satirical French political expression, “there go the people, and I must follow, for I am their leader.” Politics, like the media, should not always reflect every single one of your beliefs. That might make you feel better but it would also be a form of self-serving governing to put appeasement over the truth.
With this shift in mindset, disagreement would then be encouraged. We would be skeptical of the politician that sounds too much like us.
Sometimes, though, it can feel like we’re already in too deep. Maybe we’ve drawn battle lines against some local elected officials and feel like we’re, as poker players would say, pot committed and can’t back down from a hardline position.
As we celebrate the birth of Christ in two days, we are reminded of the greatest life of redemption ever lived. This is important to remember because too often our divides are driven by a shame that our relationship with our elected officials is too beyond saving based on things we may have said. This assumption spirals and leads to harsher words.
We should try a different approach this holiday season; one that aims at recognizing the humanity behind the decisions made rather than the reputation swirling around some lawmakers.
My favorite Christmas carol is O Holy Night. The most impactful line to me, although Celine Dion’s version as a whole will bring you to tears, comes in the first verse, “a thrill of hope; the weary soul rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn’.”
This is the acceptance of a new direction. Of a better path. It understands that the road has been hard but that redemption lies ahead. And how do we get there?
“Fall on your knees.” You might be thinking this is where the allegory breaks down. Of course we’re not going to fall on our knees toward elected officials. That’s submission to tyranny!
It’s not for them, but rather with them, It’s not compliance; it’s forgiveness.
You might easily remember the worst job you ever had. Some might be working theirs now at the overcrowded stores I’m about to head to. I truly believe many aspects of being an elected official make it a difficult job. Many bad days outweigh its benefits.
This Christmas season, let’s remind ourselves that we are never beyond redemption of recognizing that.