Friday, March 07, 2008

Hoops, teams, and choices 

Suppose you're a married person, and also a pretty good basketball player.  Basketball being a team sport and you wanting to take that next step in your game, you have to find teammates, and so you do.  You practice and play with these same teammates for a few years, winning some games, losing others, beginning to enter in tournaments and travel the state.  Your spouse likes that you are exercising, finds your teammates pleasant enough, but it's not like your spouse has close friends in your teammates.  They are just people you play hoops with.

Your team is entered in a big tournament, one to which the team has looked forward for months.  Two days before the tournament, your spouse surprises you with an offer of a great weekend, a second honeymoon.  All expenses paid.  "But I have a tournament this weekend," you say.  "Sweetheart, who are you going to choose?  Your teammates, or me?"  "Oh, oh, I choose you, of course dear." 

You call your friends, announce that, as much as you'd like to play, this time you have to say no.  "I have to go with my spouse, and I know that goes against your wishes."  "But without you we will likely lose the tournament.  If you can't be with us when we really need you, we are going to remove you from the team."  "Well, that's a shame, but I have to put my family first."  You go on your weekend with your spouse.  Your team asks for your jersey.  You made the right choice, you're sure -- who can argue that you shouldn't pick your spouse over a rec basketball team? -- but your choice isn't free.

Littlest Scholar is a basketball player.  Her coach allocates floor time and starting spots based in part on time spent in practice.  You miss a practice, even for a perfectly good reason like piano recital, and you don't start.  You will still play, you are still on the team.  But you don't start. I wish she started every game, and so does she.  She wants to play enough to be a leader, to wear a C on her uniform.  Then she gets interested in piano and decides to skip a few practices.  Coach says one night "Look, LS, if you can't show up for the practices, I want to give that C to JJ over there, who comes to every practice and works very hard."  "But I really want to learn piano, and I want to play basketball, and besides I'm older and JJ is just a sixth grader!"  "Yes, but you have to make choices, and we have to have our leaders be someone all players look up to, and that's the player working hardest for the team.  I understand your choice, but your choice isn't free."*

A state representative choose to accept the support of a major political party, and caucuses with it.  As she learns the ropes of being a representative -- it isn't easy, the rules are not like those experienced elsewhere -- she is given opportunities to take a leadership role under the tutelage of senior representatives in her caucus.  But she starts to miss meetings and votes, and then on a certain day when the caucus, the team, really needs her, she chooses to "vote my conscience" instead.  She is so certain she did right she tells the press that if voting her conscience was wrong then "I don't deserve to be here."  Those who helped her learn the ropes and trusted her as leader of the caucus on committees remove the C from her committee uniform. 

You can vote your conscience, and you can be independent-minded.

But your vote isn't free.

*The story about Littlest and basketball is fiction only because she would never pick piano over basketball.