Aye, November 8th, how we long for thee!

What intense months these have been, fraught with unrequited attempts to understand a suitor whose yes-men perversely pursued our affections by means of belittling and attacking those brave enough to publicly question them on the most fundamental tenets of the proposed relationship.  Whew.  That’s exhausting to read, much less experience.

How welcome will be the closing of the polls and the tallying of just how resolutely the ‘noes’ mean ‘no.’

The worst part of this entire tax referendum fiasco has been the effect on several people I admire and respect who have been, simply by virtue of an employer or enrollment in an educational program, isolated in a political issue they didn’t create.  I cannot imagine any of us long for November 8th more than those neighbors do.

“Are you prepared to lose?” someone asked me recently. Different political context, but a question provoking worthwhile introspection.

The practice of law is often, in a broad sense, contingency planning for an unfavorable outcome. Contracts are drawn with penalties for breach; the governing documents of entities and employers include provisions for winding up and dissolution; representation of businesses entails issue-spotting and strategic, chess-like consideration of how to respond to, and minimize, various challenges; in litigation, specific rulings are pursued to protect the ability to appeal.

There is an art to advocacy and to leadership, and the most skilled leaders unfailingly exhibit a highly developed ability to differentiate between an issue and an individual or between a cause and a community.  Fists may pound upon chests, lines may be drawn, shoulders may square—but effective advocacy stops short of scorching the earth beneath both our feet.

“I could never say anything publicly because I don’t want them coming after me, but . . . .”

I’ve heard that numerous times.  And believe me you, I get it.  Our relationships, personal and professional, often dictate polite, social acquiescence.

It’s not easy to take a stand, to publicly engage in a contentious debate, to advance ideas or opinions that might run contrary to a neighbor’s ideas or opinions, to challenge the flow instead of just ‘go.’

For many, it is uncomfortable to step into the gap between the individual and an organization, between the singular and the collective, between the governed and the government.

The risks of ‘losing,’ compared to the gains from ‘winning,’ understandably counsels many to quiet observation.

Those that do stand in that gap, who are willing to withstand arrows for a cause, often credit some transformative experience with fueling their passion and thickening their skin.  That’s true for me, too.

I was a little pale-skinned, knobby-kneed 11-year-old girl from an average working-class, faith-founded family when a series of adults, strangers organized within a powerful system, purposefully inflicted a harm upon me and some other children. 

While other teenagers ran about in more typical teenagerly things, I spent nine years in an unlikely apprenticeship of courage and boldness, failure and triumph, gumption and grit, persevering in telling a painful story so that the grownups around me could understand why it mattered, and later confined under oath in rooms with kettles of slick-suited attorneys charging astronomical hourly rates, circling around for any part of me they might be able to peck loose. 

My ‘go hard’ and insatiable appetite for preparation and planning were born and trained in those years. At twenty years old, I won; but only because at eleven years old I first lost, and only because others, hearing the story, were brave enough to take a stand for me and with me.

In the current political climate, the bigger question for those who have found a passion and a voice through a tax referendum issue is “are you prepared to win?”

Are you prepared to love on your neighbor, no matter an outcome?  To channel your momentum into other service opportunities with our schools, churches, service organizations, neighborhoods, government?

I hope so.

There is infinite need for advocates who differentiate between a cause and a community, for leadership grounded in love for people. 

And there is always, by definition, more room to come stand in the gap.

Shelby Slawson - attorney, mom, writer, and ever-aspiring trophy wife - is a member of the E-T’s community columnists. She can be reached at shelby@slawsonlawfirm.com.