Quitting the Race (Letters to a Young Child, Part 2)

by Matt B. on October 22, 2015

Dear –

When I was a boy, I wanted to be president. I thought I should be. Not because I was uniquely talented – though Mom was pumping plenty of that in my ear – but because, deep down, I believed that it would make my life worthy. That if I could succeed in attaining high political office, my life wouldn’t be a waste.

I’ve always been afraid of wasting my life, and I still am – day-to-day, moment-to-moment. I’m afraid that if I follow my own habits and trajectories unthinkingly, my time here will be much less than it could have been – both for me and for others. I’m afraid of getting older and realizing vividly what I’ve suspected all along – that I’m just bumbled along, that I don’t take good care of myself, that I’m a poor steward of my precious life.

And for a long time, I’ve confused taking care of myself with getting somewhere in the world. Now that I see they’re different, I’m afraid of putting myself in a position to confuse them again. Which is part of why I’m living in Bangkok – to get some distance from the forms of competition that used to tempt me so much.

And that’s very much what our political contests are – ego competitions. They’re about individual candidates trying to prove that they’re worthy. Ask yourself, “What’s the logic of this person’s candidacy?” Other than the fundamental attribution errorMy mistakes are incidental, but the other guy’s are part of his core – it’s usually pretty hard to see.

Here’s something that would restore some of my faith in our politics: imagine a candidate who bows out of a race after seeing that another candidate is wiser, deeper, and better-suited for the job. Not, “I want to spend more time with my family.” Not, “This is part of God’s plan.” Just, “I’m not the best person for the job – but that’s okay, because this was never really about me in the first place.”

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