One November day, I joined the "also rans" of history when I placed third in a three-candidate race for a minor public office in my town.
In my town of 20,000 voters and 10 square miles of territory, my campaign had instructed voters to vote yes to stop construction of a commercial waste plant. A yes vote would adopt an initiative banning out-of-city waste. It was an important instruction, because if citizens did not want the waste-plant development, they had to switch their thinking from negative to positive, which wasn't obvious to everyone.
On election night, I'd gone to bed early, like Harry Truman, not knowing the results of this strenuous, five-month campaign. An early-morning phone call from a supporter and old friend offered comfort while informing me of the results.
"Those 4,000 votes for the initiative were your votes," she reported. "Without you, it never would have been on the ballot, and without your campaign no one would have known how to vote in the right way."
The next breathless phone call came from another well-meaning friend who had been out gathering my signs. Even though candidates are given 10 days after the election to take down their political messages, she'd been out in the early hours to sneak them off lawns, as if to quietly end my public disgrace. I could tell she was close to tears.
At social events, acquaintances sent sympathetic glances my way across the room and were reassured when I signaled back, "I'm all right."
Some expressions of sympathy were patently lugubrious voices from people who had to call me on other business and thought they should acknowledge my "humiliation." Were they surprised when I replied that the election and campaign had been a positive experience, one that I would like to repeat - and one that I encourage others to tackle!
I have now run for office twice. The first time I received 39 votes in my ward, and the second time, 850 in the city. I consider these voters intelligent people, and I thank them for their support.
In both elections where my name appeared on the ballot, the majority wanted someone else, and no one can argue with that. I did not run to defeat the other candidates, but to advocate important issues. Would I have liked to win? Yes, of course! But, the most important aspect of any competition - either for public office, in the workplace, in sports, in life - is the ability to take the defeat and take it without tears.
A phrase kept coming to mind from Rudyard Kipling's poem, beloved by my father's Depression-era generation, "If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two Impostors just the same," as did St. Paul's metaphor of the race in which many run and only one receives the prize. There is honor in that, a sense of accomplishment.
Like everybody, I have had some tragedy and disappointments in my life. I felt much worse when I was stood up for the high school dance, when I did not get into a doctorate program, when my parents passed on, when I lost my husband's love.
To those of the next generations who hesitate to run for office -those who fear the defeat and the expense - let me report that there is a joy in running for office. We can build a beautiful country, town by town. In speaking out for the issues one believes in, in trying to build a better community, in learning how the actual mechanics of cities operate, in seeing the role of county and state governments, the good experiences outweigh the bad.
Meeting my neighbors, I experienced the excitement of learning the variety of life patterns found in one Ohio community. In my town I found a microcosm of the nation: from trailer parks and cottages to carefully landscaped condominiums and million-dollar homes; from thriving businesses to bankruptcies; signs of poverty and luxury existing cheek by jowl. The city will never be the same to me again.
A generation raised on television football and the cynical message that "winning is all that counts," may also require a switch in their thinking from negative to positive. Don't vote no when you should be voting yes.
Certainly it is better to win than to lose, but first one must try. Elections require more than one candidate, one point of view. The debate itself is important.
Our system of government is built on volunteers. May many come forth.
Faith Corrigan teaches English at Kent State University's Geauga Campus.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society