Several letters and a voicemail arrived yesterday addressing me as “The Honorable Dan Ponder”. I remember the first time I received a letter addressed to me in such a way. It was shortly after I was elected to the Seminole County Commission in 1990.
At first, it was odd seeing that title before my name. Though I had seen it before in political correspondence, I never gave it much thought. I can honestly say I had never considered that someone would ever call me the Honorable, even on that first Election Day of my political career.
As a rule anyone elected to public office in a general election is entitled to be addressed as the Honorable for life. According to The Protocol School of Washington, it is typically used for federal, state and some local officials who are either in office or retired.
29 years after my first election, I can say that my thoughts have changed a bit on the appropriateness of that courtesy title. While quite flattered to be called the Honorable early in my life, I realized even then that I really had not done anything to actually deserve that title other than be elected to an office. It certainly was not something I felt entitled to use for the rest of my life.
I have come to believe that the title is entirely appropriate for some of our elected officials. However, many of those most deserving individuals had earned the title already. You see, I believe that being honorable reflects your character. You do not become honorable because you were elected, rather you are often elected because you are honorable already.
Similarly, you don’t instantly attain good character because you are elected. It is more likely your good character helped you get elected in the first place.
What may have changed along the way is the pressure put on that good character once the scent of power starts swirling around many of our leaders. Author Hank Green stated in his latest book that “They tell you power corrupts. They never tell you how quickly”.
We will hear a lot in the coming weeks and months about power and corruption. There will be many comments about some less than honorable officials, often from people with no standing to call that kettle black.
You will not be able to filter much of what you are about to hear unless you cut off every electronic device and quit reading newspapers. It will be almost impossible not to take sides, especially since it appears that many Americans have already made their decision about these matters.
I am talking about impeachment, of course. I am not talking about the merits of the charges or the posturing of the players. I am not talking about the insanity of having different networks report the news with almost exactly opposite spins.
I am talking about something much simpler and something you can control. I am talking about your own character and your own opportunity to earn the right to be called Honorable for the rest of your life.
It is so much more important that you earn that title with your own good works and your own understanding of what goes on around you. The country needs for you to form your own well-reasoned thoughts about our democracy and the future of our country.
Learn to speak your voice armed with reason and leave the shouting to the less informed. Let your elected officials know your thoughts and expectations but give them space to listen to all their constituents. Give them the tools, support and cover to do the right thing . . . the honorable thing . . . whatever that might be.
For many of our elected officials in Washington, they saw that honorable title and believed they deserved it. Now in these troubled times, they are discovering they are going to have to earn it. Whether they act honorably or not will determine how they are viewed for the rest of their lives.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org