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  • Jay Kaufman

Dear The - Reflections on Role and Self

Election Day 1994, November 8, is a day I long remember and a memory I’ll long treasure. It was the day I was first elected to serve in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Friends and family were elated by my newly achieved position and authority, and allies were excited about what I might do to advance the causes we cared about.

I was elated and excited too. I had prevailed in a close general election after a hard-fought, three-way primary. I was enormously relieved that I had not let down the hundreds of supporters and volunteers who had made my election possible. I felt incredibly fortunate and grateful. And although it would be some weeks before I learned that my office meant that I was to be formally addressed as The Honorable Jay Kaufman, I knew that evening that I felt honored to have been elected.

I learned about the formal address when I received a letter from John Kerry, then the junior Senator from Massachusetts. The envelope showed his return address in the U.S. Capitol and, in place of the usual stamp, there was the signature that marked his franking privileges, a perk that came with his office. I could feel my chest puffing out just a little bit as I savored “The Honorable Jay Kaufman” for the first time. I opened the envelope carefully, thinking to save it as a keepsake. It was then that I noticed the salutation. “Dear The,” it read. The Senator’s word processing mail merge read my first name as “The,” a not-inappropriate reminder that the note was addressed to me in a role, not just to me.

I’ve occasionally thought to write a “Dear John” letter to thank the Senator for his word processing software’s gift. I’m grateful for “Dear The” as an amusing and important early lesson in remembering that “role” and “self” are not the same thing. It helped keep me sober and centered when my title and my role could have led to an inflated ego or to unachievable and unwise expectations, mine and others.

You can’t stand for or stand in a position of public office without an ego, a sense of self. But that’s for another day.

For now, suffice it to say that, beyond appreciating the Senator’s letter, I’m also grateful for the trusted friends who remind me that “role” and “self” are not the same. Having people around you who help you be increasingly discerning is a precious gift; and extremely important.

It is exceedingly difficult to be disciplined about being in your role and in your authentic self at the same time. The temptations and pressures to confuse the two are many. But it is critical to try.

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