I have not heretofore watched any of the Democratic debates, preferring to read highlights and summaries because I just didn’t want to subject myself to all that conflict and largely meaningless posturing. But I did watch this most recent one, last Thursday, because my younger brother was really excited to see it.
So I sat and watched and we had our running commentary and all that. And mostly, I didn’t think it was worth much for anyone. However (obviously there was a however coming).
You know I’m always here for Pete Buttigieg (surprise surprise) and I was so emotionally arrested by a moment from his concluding response, answering a question about professional setbacks and resilience. His personal story is enough to get me a little choked up, as a gay, but there was one small line from him that really made it for me. I’ll give you the whole sentence:
And what I leaned was that trust can be reciprocated and that part of how you can win and deserve to win is to know what’s worth more to you than winning.
In that particular case, what was worth more for him was the freedom to fall in love. And if that’s not the most simultaneously romantic and presidential thing anyone said in the whole debate, then my name’s Tiddlywomps Chickenbroth. Not an endorsement of him as a candidate, he’s honestly a little underwhelming in my book, but wow I tell you what wow.
What is worth more to you than winning? I don’t imagine that any of my readers are currently running for president, we’re all in different situations and have different things that might qualify as ‘winning’ for us. People talk a lot about the varying definitions of success, so maybe that’s more appropriate here. Wealth, jobs, fame, a legacy.
I would also argue, at least right this moment, that family and friends and things like that should also be excluded. While I think they’re good things–certainly things worth considering for a mature definition of success– I think that there are things that go beyond relationships. On a very abstract level. Though Mayor Buttigieg was talking about something concrete in the form of a specific romantic relationship, I think he nonetheless hit the nail on the head.
What is worth more to you than winning? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: love. And, here, not any specific kind of love like spouse or child or friend. But to live a life that is characterized by love. “Characterized” is a term I’ve used kind of a lot lately, talking about whether this or that is characterized by this or that attribute. I think it’s an important question to ask: not to list attributes or give examples and counterexamples but to wonder what something is like at its core. How would my life be characterized by a hypothetical biographer twenty, one hundred, five hundred years after my death?
Another reason I like thinking about characterization is that it takes some of the pressure off. I know that I’m not really all that good at having loving responses in a wide variety of situations and I know that my actions and words often do not line up with what I would readily profess to be my values. But if we talk about being characterized by love, in the way I imagine it, it’s less about evaluating each moment and more finding a common element across circumstance.
To boil things down a bit, for my own sake as much as yours: thinking of the things that we value above and beyond all else, including and especially an abstraction like love, and then figuring out how to make your life reflect that value.
As a prelude to my topic for next week, I will leave you with this text that will likely be well-known in Bible-y circles. Speaking to achieving success without having fixed anything as more valuable than winning.
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”
What is worth more to you than winning?