“Years ago, my mother used to say to me, ‘In this world, you must be oh so smart, or oh so pleasant.’ Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.”
I’m quoting Elwood P. Dowd, the hero of “Harvey.” This classic holiday movie starring Jimmy Stewart is about a dipsomaniac and an invisible, six-foot, three-and-a-half-inch tall rabbit. Elwood P. Dowd says things like, “I’ve wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I’m happy to state I won out over it.”
This is not the sort of stuff you would expect a serious candidate to quote on his Facebook page, but I know a candidate who did.
The candidate, Mark Roe, was a friend of mine in college. We bummed around Europe together in the early ‘80s. He was appointed as Snohomish County Prosecutor in December of ‘09 and ran for election in ‘10. I was appointed as Pierce County Prosecutor in September ‘09 and was also on the ballot in ‘10.
We didn’t plan this.
That campaign season, we talked a lot. I probably should have advised Roe against quoting an eccentric tippler, but I didn’t. I thought it was so original for a political campaign, and so authentic, that it worked.
Roe’s commitment to pleasantness wavered only once that I know of during his campaign. He called to say, “My opponents keep lying about me.”
Welcome to the club, I almost said.
Instead, I advised him to stick with his Elwood P. Dowd philosophy of pleasant. Roe did. He found campaign Zen and won easily.
In Roe’s younger years, he was concerned with demonstrating how smart he was. Unlike most people who do this, Roe truly is smart. He is so smart that he figured out that pleasant is more important.
I had this epiphany later in life than Roe. Timing is everything, as they say, and I was open to the concept in the summer of 2010. The death of my brother in June and the birth of my daughter in August was a yin-yang wake-up call.
Life is short.
After serving three terms, one partial and two full, Roe and I are both up for our fourth term in 2018. Roe, however, is not running. The reality of public service may not be as pleasant as it once was, but I cannot say to what degree this affected Roe’s decision to retire. I can say I still love serving. Even the things about the job I don’t like, I still love.
When I need the philosophy of pleasantness affirmed, I turn to Marcus Aurelius, my favorite stoic. “Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness – all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good and evil.” He goes on to charitably note that none of these things can injure him because we are all brothers and he cannot be angry with his brethren.
In other words, be pleasant no matter what.
I have long been into New Year’s resolutions. Historically, my resolutions were a typical laundry list: read more books, quit watching bad movies, appreciate beauty, use sunscreen, and so on.
In my thirties my resolutions were about the length of “The Great Gatsby,” which is short for a novel but long for a to-do list, so I began honing them. Rather than resolutions, the list became one of guiding principles, how to best fight the good fight.
I eventually thinned it to three: live with integrity, practice gratitude, be a person on whom nothing is lost.
Thanks to Elwood P. Dowd and Mark Roe, I’ve added be pleasant. Pleasantness is how Elwood P. Dowd “won out” over reality.
It’s smart to be pleasant.
You may quote me.
Mark Lindquist is our Pierce County Prosecutor. He was appointed in 2009, elected in 2010, and re-elected in 2014.