RL158 - My Citadel is Irrelevant

This week, Merlin and John talk about

The Problem: "John wanted to put an extra petal on the flower", referring to a Valentine card John received in 3rd grade with a picture of a little girl playing the "he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not"-game.

The show title refers to John's emotional citadel that he used to protect, but which is irrelevant in his political campaign.

As John arrived at his office studio, he noticed schmutz on his pants. Like other rich and famous guys, John should probably get a rack of clothes down at the office.

Draft version
The segments below are drafts that will be incorporated into the rest of the Wiki as time permits.

The emotional challenges of running a campaign (RL158)

Running his campaign has delivered John into a very discomforting emotional place that he had not been in for decades. He tried to suppress that emotion and to just get his papers out, give his speeches and fulfill the duties of being a candidate. Nobody is interested in your emotional response to transit, but they exclusively want the policy response. Nobody is interested in your emotional response to the experience of running a campaign. The question is not at all if John can figure out and handle this pretty complicated world of policy. Instead, the complicated part is how to infest policy with meaning and who to recruit people who understand that their policy affects real action in the real world. How do you enlist them even if they feel that it is against their best interest? Those are all emotional duties! The policy itself is just a set of encyclopedias. John has read multiple sets of encyclopedias and he can read another. The question is instead if he can emotionally survive this and if will be emotionally fulfilling. The fact that it feels dangerous and he is emotionally upset all the time is not necessarily evidence that he is not suited for this or that this isn’t good and great. He has entered a realm where there is a lot of reading to do, but to an unexpected degree there is also a lot of emotional studying to do. This is the stuff that no-one talks about! There are 50 books about how to run a successful campaign, but there are no books about how to emotionally survive a campaign and yet it is just as real, if not realer!

A lot of the decisions John has made over the last 15 years were on an intellectual level. Their goal was to protect his emotional wellbeing and to defend his emotional citadel. He was making emotional decisions so that his emotional citadel is never breached. He was sitting in that citadel and felt safe, but was he? Was that really healthy? During his campaign John had chosen a world where his citadel was irrelevant and he had to leave it to come down here. His outward challenge was to fill out 400.000 forms that were required by the job he had applied for. People were watching him wondering if he would be able to fill out those forms, because that was pretty hard. It is not hard! It is just work! The question is if you can emotionally survive not just filling out the forms, but also having those people watch you and commenting on you while you are waking up at 5am every day. That’s the real stuff! John does not have a safe harbour to talk about it and he has only very few people to compare notes with. The question is not if he can make it to the meeting with the Firefighter’s Union by 1:30pm. Obviously he can! He can also answer their questions to their satisfaction. The question is if he wants to curl into a ball after he walks out of there. Yes, he does! The thing he needs to address in advance of becoming a public servant is what exactly makes John want to curl into a ball.

When you going back to the dressing room and curl into a ball after playing a two hour show as a Rock musician, everybody recognizes that you have just given a tremendous amount of energy and emotion to a room full of people. That emotion and energy is what people go to see Rock concerts for. The audience walks out into the night, feeling charged up in part because you have projected your emotion onto them and in part because they have vampired you a little bit. You are kind of a husk and you have to replenish. This is true in so many walks of life: You don’t recognize that you are drawing down and if your reservoir doesn’t have a chance to fill back up, then you are immediately using up whatever energy you are putting into your reservoir. To others that might merely read as being tired, if it registers at all. Thus far in the campaign, there had never been a time when John was on his way to an event, pulled over the car and said he can’t do it. In every politician's life there is a moment when you are about to walk into a gymnasium and you just say that you can not. You just hope you don’t say that after you are already standing on the stage. In John's own emotional world he first feels exhausted, but this energy soon goes into anxiety, which is a horrible feeling! John mentioned it to several friends and he is really astonished at the number of people who say that they feel like that every single day for as long as they can remember, even those who John perceives to be calm and collected. He didn’t know where to put that information, because he always assumed that it would be just water off a duck’s back, but some of his friends are in constant fear that they are just one mistake away from total annihilation.

Already at the time when he wakes up in the morning, John is struggling to catch his breath and all day long he is having a mild asthma attack. He never used to have that feeling at all! It is basically the feeling he had an hour before he went on stage, more like a butterflies-in-the-stomach kind of thing. Whenever someone would ask John to play a show, he would always say ”Great!” and then immediately pretend he didn’t say that. When the emails would start to come in about this upcoming show, he would delete them and when the show would eventually start to loom, he wished that he had not agreed to do it, even if he knows it is going to be a great show or the beginning of a tour. As the show then gets closer, he would really hope that there would be a storm and the show would get cancelled. The night of the show he would wish to have a mild car accident where no-one was hurt, but enough of an accident that he would have a plausible reason to not do the show. Maybe that was Dylan’s motorcycle accident? A lot of people think that he really had reached the end of it and took a dive and was not hurt nearly as bad, but just needed that time to not have to deal with things.

No place for self-doubt (RL158)

The actual learning experience is not about the state policy on rent control, because that is interesting, easy to learn and not emotional. Instead John needs to learn what is going on inside himself. His anxiousness is a sign of importance. If he didn’t feel anything before he went on stage, he would either not be challenging himself or he would have stopped caring. How can John turn that energy so that he is a more effective public servant who is more useful to people as an agent to getting things happening and making good policy? It is not about his comfort in and of itself, but more about his discomfort at another level, which John is very aware of. When he is asked to write policy about things that are out of his world of interest, he doesn’t have an emotional block, but he can read about things he doesn’t understand or he can ask people who know better about it and who can explain it. That part is the work, it is not that ambiguous.

John's personality is characterized by self-doubt. A certain amount of it is healthy and he is always trying to move the needle back to the healthy section, but during his campaign he is in a world with the expectation that you do not express any self-doubt. The other candidates do not show very much self-doubt either, although John happens to know that the other three people in his race do have considerable self-doubt. They are human beings. They do have emotional lives. John likes them all. When John meets Firefighter’s Union to answer questions about their pensions, there is no room for self-doubt in his feeling about those pensions and their importance. The firefighters just want to know if John supports their position. As an artist who was living in a world he had made for himself, he had always brought that self-doubt everywhere. If he was in a conversation with somebody who had no room for John’s self-doubt, he would leave that conversation because the other person was a monster! In some ways, self-doubt becomes a companion and it keeps you honest and practical. John can’t live without it and it is part of his character. He even thinks it will make him a better public servant. But during the campaign he is being asked to perform in a circus and self-doubt is not what people paid to see. You don’t sit in front of an executive board and say that this question has plagued you because pensions are emblematic of a deeper question of the role the state plays in providing for them. They would already be looking for their bell. They didn’t sign up for a class, but for a 30 minute interview where John can either tell them what they want to hear or give them an idea what they have to fight.

Certainty comes before the right thing (RL158)

People have told John that they don’t like his opponent, but they know where he stands and that allows them to make plans. They have a $40 million hole in the ground Downtown that they are 2 days away from pouring concrete into and the fact that John’s opponent is either for or against it is less important to them than knowing exactly what he is going to do. Although they don’t like him and although they might like John, the fact that they don’t know what John is going to do is scarier to them than to know the opponent is against them. The first time John heard that it was really scary! Nobody knew what he was going to do and his reaction was ”I know, right? Isn’t that kind of great?”, but it is not great at all! John was meeting an environmental group and assumed that they must have a sense that John is 1000% an environmentalist. They did have that sense, but his opponent had been a reliable and grey-colored vote on behalf of the basic environmental package. He is not inspiring, but he is reliable. They don’t want just inspiring, but reliably inspiring.

It is almost like finding out what judge you have been assigned in court and you know on what side of the case they are, which allows you to craft a certain offense or defense. Even if you are in the defense of the ”hang him” judge, at least you know about it. You don’t want a new cat coming in there who is a real free thinker. You need to know how much this case is going to cost to defend and you want to look at the judge's track record in order to see how they tend to adjudicate similar things. That is much more desirable than a judge who really believes in justice.

All these groups are looking for are 5 out of 9 votes in the city council. The vast majority of them do not look at individual council people as much as they look at where that individual council person is going to fall in case of a split decision. Everybody wants 5 reliable votes. The environmentalists, the transit nerds, the cops. It is much more like a scorecard for them. They have this person and they have this person, the incumbent who is doing well in the race, and they are going to vote for them. For these rest of the seats it is unclear who is going to win and they need to know whether the candidates are going to vote for them or not. John is running against the incumbent and everybody knows exactly where he fits into their scorecard. Out of all 65 people running for city council right now, John is the most unknowable for everyone. For the cops and for the environmentalist. He does not come from a siloed background and despite his attempt to populate his campaign by laying it out in writing, he still doesn’t have a voting record. He can promise that he will put a baby in every pot when elected, but that doesn't help unless he has previously voted for putting a baby in every pot 5 times, or conversely, against it. Everybody who runs for office wants to be liked by everybody, except for the people who run specifically because they hate a certain kind of civic leader, like they are here to fight big developers.

You don’t have to get an unanimous verdict in the city council, but you are just trying to win. If you know that 4 people are against you and you know that 4 people are for you, you can just focus your attention on the one, which feels very efficient to a lot of political operatives. They don’t have to spend any energy on the 4 people they know are against them. If everybody smelled on John that he would be malleable and corrupt and someone who is capable of being coerced or bought, maybe he would be more successful. People also love the situation where the candidate is dumb, but has a smart staff, because they can go talk to the staff and make a deal. Then the staff will tell their candidate what they should do and people vote for his great hair. That is how politics goes! There are people at every level of politics who walk into every room with the words ”What can I do for you?” The problem is that they neither know what John is going to do, nor can they reach him through the normal back doors. There are also those people who want to make sure that you owe them a couple of favors all the time.

Creeping corruption and hardball politics (RL158)

The path to corruption is not a big bag of money, but it is a collection of tiny little incremental failures to stand on your own principle. People come to John every single day. There is nothing dishonest about it, it is not a process of organized deceit, it is not a conspiracy, but just people saying that they want to give you an opportunity to be their friend and in exchange they will do what they can to help you. While you are on a campaign it feels very human and humane. You are struggling, you want friends, you want people to tell you that they support you, and they are only asking for a very small thing: They want you to be their friend and they want you to remember this moment. It seems so easy and you will take that deal gladly, because you are just trying to put together enough friends to get into office. Then you realize that the job of every one of those people is to remember that favor. If you don’t have a core, if your values aren’t your own, then it only takes one campaign until you have promised everything to everybody. You are excited about being in office and you are trying to accommodate every person who walks in here, not because you are looking for the best solution that helps everybody, but because you have already given a piece of yourself to everybody. It is astonishing how easy it is to be corrupted, let alone if somebody says ”Remember when we endorsed you and got 70.000 members of our organization to fight for you? You would not be here without me!” That is hardball politics!

When the Sierra Club sat down with John, they asked him why they should endorse him when they had endorsed his opponent in the last 3 elections. It would be a violation of their policy to switch. John' reply was: Wouldn’t you like to have somebody out there who is really on your team? They did and they endorsed him. They didn’t ask anything from him then and they didn’t make a big deal of it since. Now they are happy to see him when they run into each other. John had already been ahead of them. The Sierra Club is never going to ask him to do something he finds distasteful.

There are so many issues where any reasonable person would fall somewhere in the middle, where it is really difficult to know where you land. That is normal and should be part of good government and part of the discussion. There are 9 of them up here and 7 think this is a gimme, or there are 7 of them who don’t even understand the question, or there are 6 of them who feel like group A has a good point, but they are kind of overplaying their hand a little bit. At the same time, group B has a weaker point, but they are kind of noble. This is people business, but there is no real place for that in a campaign. In a campaign you are for or against stuff. If you start to have nuance, they ring the bell and your 30 seconds are up.

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