A friend and I traded messages this week about her 12-year-old son. It appears he had a dust up with his coach during basketball tryouts, and he has decided to quit the game. It was clear she wasn't happy with his decision.
I suggested that if it wasn't too late, she may wish to have him reconsider. It reminded me of a time when I too have made similar choices.
The only athletic activity that ever came naturally was swimming. When I was even younger than my friend's son, we got a new instructor for swim lessons. The new guy and I didn't get along. He wasn't as good as the last instructor. He didn't know what we were already good at and was making us do things we already knew how to do. He didn't really seem interested in wanting to be there, and seemed more interested in wanting to get a good tan and enjoy the poolside company of those older than us kids.
In short, he was a bit of a jerk that wasn't pleasant to be around. He didn't appear to be constructive. I didn't see things moving forward and didn't like the guy. I didn't go back, and never had a lesson, never joined a swim team, and enjoyed my teen years and too many beyond them as a couch potato.
It's easy to learn how to quit. There are many things that can be used to justify the decision. It often is a very rational one, and even sometimes the best choice.
But too often quitting is a short-term solution born in what is easy rather than what is good - what is needed - for long-term success. It's a short circuit. And when learned at too young an age it becomes part of the conditioning process to follow the path of least resistance.
Most of us, at some point in our lives, eventually learn that we must pick and choose our battles. It's better when young to fight more rather than fewer of these battles to the end. The opportunity cost of time is much smaller, and sometimes unexpected wins occur. This is when confidence is earned. This is how character develops.
As this is largely a political column, there of course has to be the extrapolation to how most of us treat political participation. Many of us treat it as a spectator sport. The problem with that is that too often the spectators never realize they quit long ago.
I can remember my frustration when I used to work campaigns when I would ask people if they were involved in politics. The number of times that question was answered with "I listen to Neal Boortz/Rush Limbaugh every day" was astounding.
It did not surprise me at all that talk radio would be the news medium of choice for these folks, as I tended to work Republican primary races and this was a time before blogs or Fox News. What was surprising was that was the sum total of their definition of "involved."
With the suburbanization and modernization of our population, fewer and fewer of us go to civic meetings like Kiwanis, Rotary, or the Lions clubs anymore. Fewer still attend organized political meetings like partisan breakfasts or dinners. Most precincts go unorganized by both parties. "Door to door" campaigning now mostly means either paid canvassers or very young volunteers posting flyers on mailboxes.
The vast majority of us have decided, actively or passively, to quit our participation in politics. Listening to the radio, watching cable news, or reading this column is not participating.
Participating is when you're willing to show up. It doesn't have to be at an organized event, but it does have to mean you're willing to help change someone else's vote -- or to get a non-voter to vote.
This isn't done by hanging out with only those you agree with. It sometimes means taking swimming lessons from a total jerk or playing basketball for a coach you don't like.
It means bringing your A-game. And you have to bring it to the opposition.
Civics are a lifelong responsibility in a free country. If we do not all do our part to participate in how we govern, then we must accept the consequences from those who will govern us.
There will be many times we have the chance to quit. Quitting is easy. The consequences of quitting are forever.
Charlie Harper, author and editor of the Peach Pundit blog, writes on Georgia politics and government; www.peachpundit.com.