The Outsiders by S.E Hinton is one of my all-time favorite books. As a youngster, I read it no less than a dozen times. It had a lasting and profound impact on me. The complexity and friction of the interactions between different social classes, the challenges of growing up poor and growing up with little or no parental oversight, the lack of real structure, the gangs in Oklahoma, the romance and dreams of kids born with much, and some born with nothing, were themes that captured my attention.
I should add that, to me, the film adaption by Francis Ford Coppola was less spectacular than the book. But one thing well visualized in the movie was the poignant scene between Ponyboy and Johnny, as Ponyboy reads to his dear friend, who was dying after heroically saving some local kids from a church fire. Johnny was a dreamer, and he taught the tougher gang members about the finer things that escaped their day-to-day observations, watching sunsets, reading poetry, or otherwise taking in other niceties in life.
As Johnny took his last breath, he instructed his friend to stay gold—good advice for all of us.
Johnny’s admonition to stay gold was a reference to the Robert Frost poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” To Johnny’s point, nothing lasts forever, and all good things must come to an end. So, stay gold. Remain innocent and untouched by the darker realities of life.
What does this have to do with politics? When we start in politics, most of us are dreamers and idealistic about what we can accomplish. That is a good thing. But time and experience tend to make the idealisms of yesterday somewhat less practical and less achievable.
Channeling the lessons of The Outsiders, we need should dream as long as possible. Cling to the notion that most people are good and need help. Continue to believe that you can make a difference. Remain steadfast that you are in politics to help others and not yourself. Remind yourself periodically why you first entered politics or public service. And leave the political arena when you lose those notions, and the cynical side tarnishes the gold.
Don’t compromise your core beliefs. Don’t lose personal perspective or allow a position to define you. Understand that the friends you had before you entered politics will probably be the only real friends you have after your run ends.
Stay gold as long as you can. Nothing lasts forever.