Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

on being in the loyal opposition

"Understand the things I say, don't turn away from me,
'Cause I've spent half my life out there, you wouldn't disagree.
Do you see me? Do you see? Do you like me?
Do you like me standing there? Do you notice?
Do you know? Do you see me? Do you see me?
Does anyone care?" from the Cranberries' "Ode to My Family"

I've always seen life as a bit like what I imagine a Victorian parliament should be. I don't mean the side whiskers, exactly, though I do have a story that rebuts my imagining. Once I went to a party at another lawyer's house, after a period in which I had neglected to trim my sideburns. A young boy of ten or so answered the door, promptly went back to his father, and said "It's Elvis at the door!". I'm sad to say I think that the lad meant Elvis in Vegas rather than Elvis circa Sun Records.

I'm probably the archetypal "secretly shy" person, who secretly suspects that my family likes my wife better than they like me, and who is certain that my in-laws are far kinder to me than I deserve.

But I do like to think that in any family or friendship situation, even when I am not in utter sympathy of soul, I generally try to be in the loyal opposition.

I find myself as a matter of style or conscience sometimes unable to follow the prevailing familial or social trend. But I do attend parliamentary functions with a positive attitude, and append my "nay, sir" onto the record without undue rancour, in matters of the more routine kind.

I've gotten caught up in a family soap opera or two in my time, but over the years, I try to be the one who is more or less on everyone's side. I can't say I condone or approve of generally bad behavior, but I can say that I try not to let my disdain for the conduct cause me to get the conductor to throw me off the train.

This sometimes places me uncomfortably in the "voice of reason" position when I am concerned that my voice is much better at falsetto than at reason. I"m a reasonable enough guy, but I just like to hear myself hit high C sometimes. But I do wonder, sometimes, if my seat on the back benches of the party not in power sometimes causes me to fail to acknowledge the things I like about those among my family and friends.

I am not often afflicted with that thing called loneliness,
which came to me only one real time in my life, in a scourge during a quarter life crisis at age 25. I seem to recall that my freshman year of college I was afflicted with a bit of old-fashioned peer persecution, but peer persecution is one of the just desserts of a certain type of nervously shy person. It builds strong bones and teeth, kinda like milk. Besides, it was not quite like Tom Brown's Schooldays or anything (I still think that Flashman is a literary treasure of meanness I can grasp).

I am afflicted, though, with what I fear is a tendency to "wish kind thoughts" and "register my vote" when I could instead really help connect better with people.

I rather like about myself that my close friends and family can all say "that's so Bob!", and refer to a set of traits they identify as being uniquely mine. I fear, a little, that they all mean the same traits. So at least I make an imprint.

I think to myself of kindnesses shown to me over the years. Sometimes the kindness can be a small thing you remember for a lifetime, like the nice woman who showed me London decades ago. I loved seeing places that were a bit off the beaten path, and yet historical marvels for all that. I want to be kind to people in just the way she was kind to me, for no good reason, in a gentle, quirky way.

Because I so often see myself in friendly situations as the party not in power, or, better stated, as the party for whom power is irrelevant, I'd like to think that I can benefit from the freedoms this provides. This takes its purest, most unalloyed time when I am in my uncle role. An uncle, after all, can be unselfishly kind for utterly no reason.

But I sometimes think that non-attachment, if that word has a value, is the freedom to be kind without any intention of winning the by-elections or enhancing one's role in the shadow cabinet. One is a lonely Social Democrat, when the spoils go to the victors from Labour or the Tories.

I loved a few years back when Canada voted an entire party more or less out of existence. But I personally want to keep at least a seat on the back benches. I fully understand those whose family politics require them to emigrate to the colonies.
But that's not my path.

My path, I think, is to aspire to small kindnesses, starting from a rather limited repertoire of confidence and ability.
I cannot aspire to a parliamentary majority, but perhaps I just might be able to make a good point at Question Time.

When one accepts this kind of insignificance, one realizes that significance is not measured by how many friend and family votes one commands. It's instead, the feeling of rising to give a speech about fish preservation in Northumberland,
or taking a walking tour of new-found archeological sites in Queensland in hope of winning the local redbrick a grant to study them that is all one can aspire to.

I sometimes say that the one wonderful thing about much of my work is that at the average dinner party describing any given issue I find fascinating is rather like applying a local anesthetic to all attendees. There is something to be said for working hard and well at something one finds worthwhile, though others might not see the charm. Everyone wants to be a film star, but how many people want to truly understand California Insurance Code Section 1025?

I find over time that my personality causes me to ask "could I have been kinder", "could I have been brighter", and "could I have reached out a little more". Perhaps that it what we do in the loyal opposition--be kind, be bright, and reach out as best we can, notwithstanding not being in power or favor.

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