Friday, October 25, 2013

"You Can't Do That" - An Origin Story

When listening to Rodrigo Futema and Dylan Goldberg speak at last night's Community Action Council dinner, followed by a great capstone from Anne Arundel County Executive Laura Neuman, I had a bit of a revelation: the origin of public service is "no".  Regardless of the individual or their office, every elected official I've met (while not every candidate) has overcome a "no".

There is nothing we can do about that.
No, that project is not feasible
No, that idea won't work.
No, that's impossible.

The inertia of "no" seems to be the resistance through which strength of spirit and conviction are reached.  I've always said, and believe in my heart, that public service must rise above the individual and have its foundation in the community.  If you are running for yourself, you should lose.  Not everyone does.  We've seen glaring examples of that across the County.  But for the most part, as much as they are maligned in conversation or print, elected officials in our County reached their position through struggle for something they believed in.

Why is that remarkable?  Isn't that how it should be?

It's remarkable because everything about campaigning and running for office encourages the blandness and safety of "no".

"I would love to help you, but I need to look out for me."
"That is a great issue, but we can't be too loud about it because it will offend some people."
"That's something you say in conversation, but don't let it get out."

Whatever courage brought that person to overcome "no" is discouraged.  This may be rationalized in any number of ways, most often by adding a measure of sophistication and intelligence to laying low, but it detracts from what it means to be a leader.

To be honest - I'm saying most of this to myself.  I love campaigning.  I love knocking on doors.  I don't love the hazy border between leadership and self-interest; between boldness and stupidity.

But at the end of the day, it comes back to that original question - do you trust your conviction or the "no"?  The "no" is safe, unremarkable, and anonymous.  The alternative is risk, scrutiny, and potential offense.  It is a high wire act.  But you have to remember why you stepped out on the wire in the first place.

That's all for today.  Have a great Friday doing what you love!