LONDON, ONTARIO, CAN BE FORGIVEN FOR FEELING some wind in its sails, despite having passed through some difficult years. We have a new mayor, a mostly new city council, and a new spring in our step. Feels good.
Those who were elected have a passion for their city and it’s not hard to spot. We need sound leadership if we are to proceed. And, in their desire to lead, they’ll need to follow the leadership of the community if they are to make the difference they obviously seek.
So, here is my prayer for all of you, the new team, based on the clear respect for your stepping forward and the awareness of the challenges you face.
First, please keep yourself. I’ve had a bit of experience in politics and it was troubling how easily political representatives permit themselves to become exclusively the extension of other people’s wants and desires. It’s vital to know your community, but your authenticity and usefulness will be centered on who you are and why you ran for office in the first place. To know oneself is important for political life; to keep yourself, however, is vital. Londoners didn’t elect robots, but living people in whom we wish to learn trust. That won’t be possible if you can’t stay real.
Be honest … please. Someone in Ottawa once explained to me that the secret of remaining in politics in putting on a difference face for everyone, as needed. It was some of the dumbest advice I’ve ever received. Politics isn’t only the art of the possible; it involves the transfer of trust, back and forth between citizen and representative. Start faking it with us, and trust is gone. And once it’s lost everything is just power plays or ambivalence.
I pray you make clear time for your family and friends. It is inherent in the very nature of politics that it soaks you for everything you can give it. Don’t give it that advantage. It is these very people who got you to where you are, and if you permit the demands of thousands of citizens to displace the honour you owe to those closest to you, it won’t be long until you lose your way, removed from those things that once gave you grounding and understanding.
Don’t forget to be humble. You didn’t get to where you are at this moment just because you’re so smart or innovative; you got there because citizens voted for you. When your community decides to trust you with leadership, it means that they not only deserve your best but also your devotedness to the honour of serving those who marked the ballot for you in the first place. Politics is not about pandering or policy, but ultimately about people. You have been elected to serve, not to seek advantage. The voters will never forget that; neither should you.
Please be kind. I have known so many good people who entered politics and who then permitted it to turn their spirits repeatedly to stone – so much so that they came to resent the very citizens that were supposed to be serving. You are to administer both the resources and understanding of the city to those that live and function within it. Resent those you are to be serving and it will be inevitable that you’ll care only about the power and perks of your position. Take time for your people, quality time, and they will keep you grounded and honoured – not because you’re a politician, but because you are a good person.
Please don’t lose yourself in these next four years; if you lose your way, so do we, and we’ve already had enough of that. Just like your citizens, love your community as though it is worthy of our very best efforts. Court it. Pursue it. Build a life with it. Love is at its best when it prompts us to serve others. Serve us with respect and understanding and we will honour you with our loyalty and talents. We love our city, but we will have to manage it through you, and that is a responsibility beyond measure. We’re turning a page together. Let’s give it our best shot.