Last week I attended the forum for the candidates running for City Council. The candidates with the most potential clearly defined the evening.
I listened as each candidate spoke of his or her record and answered several questions relating to such issues as the proposed 710 Freeway extension, sound walls and the efficiency of our schools. One learns much about another by listening. Initially, words define us. But ultimately, words are only words and we define who we are by what we do, not what we say.
I was able to distinguish the difference between those running with a personal agenda and those with a perspective beyond themselves. In a perfect world, a leader’s motives would be pure. A leader serves to serve others, but sometimes we serve to serve ourselves.
However, to their credit, all candidates expressed a definitive desire for public service. I commend those who are running for putting themselves out there. Albert Einstein said, “Politics is more difficult that physics.”
As each candidate responded to a series of questions, I would answer the question in a low mumble. My buddy Nick Sarkisian said, “Why don’t you run?”
Other than the fact I would have to wear a tie, I’ve never been tempted by the political process. However, I did run for assistant patrol leader of the Raven Patrol in Boy Scout Troop 136. I was running against Vincent Ametti, the most vile and despised kid in the troop. I won by one vote. Since then, the only leadership positions I’ve attained were decreed by an act of Congress or those I was foolish enough to volunteer for.
Public service is more than doing a job efficiently and honestly. It should encompass a complete dedication to the people and to the community, with full recognition that every citizen is entitled to courtesy and consideration. The essence of democracy begins at the grass-roots level. The exercise of democracy and its continuance as a political ideology is found in the debates of honorable people. There is no conversation more boring than the one in which everyone agrees.
Plato was instrumental in defining the importance of governance in the city-state. In “The Republic” he speaks to the issue of virtue as the glue that holds society together.
There’s a certain somber quality to leadership, a certain loneliness that implies the weight of responsibility and decision. Perhaps we should say “good luck,” instead of “congratulations,” when someone wins an election.
Leadership is sacrifice. Our city-council members often forego their own lives in their quest to govern. From what I know about leadership, you’re the first one up in the morning and the last one to bed. When someone in your charge is cold, you go without a jacket. When someone in your charge is hungry, you go without dinner. When the chips are down, you say, “Follow me,” and you never ask someone to do something that you wouldn’t do yourself.
I think Plato was right: It’s a matter of character, not popularity and lawn signs. Ultimately, a leader has to do the right thing, not merely do something right.
Freedom makes a significant requirements of every citizen. With freedom comes responsibility. The democratic process works best through shared governance. Much credit belongs to those who threw their hat in the arena and decided to run for city council. But the rest of us must pull our own weight as well.
JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at email@example.com.