Falling from grace, with grace

Isn't it hard, to be the one who has to give advice?Isn't it hard, to be the strong one?

âe¦Isn't it hard, to be the one whose phone rings all day everyday?Isn't it hard, to be the strong one?

âe¦Isn't it hard, to be the one who gathers everybody's tears?Isn't it hard, to be the strong one?

The Strong One: Bruce Cockburn, 1981

For 25 years, progressive Canadians have been able to rely on Svend Robinson to champion our cause — whether that cause was human rights abroad, civil liberties at home or the protection of the global environment. We've called on him, and he has been there for us, consistently and effectively. In doing so, he has made the case for electoral politics among marginalized groups who would otherwise have had every reason to give up on it.

Most of us failed to fully realize until last week how great a personal toll those 25 years of dedicated work have taken on Svend. The fact that no other British Columbia MP has served even half as long as Svend isn't just a result of changing electoral trends, but also a sign of how few people are willing to undertake the gruelling weekly commute from the Pacific to the Rideau over a long period of time.

Nearly everything that Svend did as an MP has come with a personal risk attached. Before he was prepared to come out of the closet to Canadians, there were snickers and whispers from political opponents (although they hardly stopped when he did confirm his sexual orientation). There were rocks thrown through the window of his constituency office. There was plenty of hate mail, in at least one case accompanied by a bullet and an invitation to use it on himself. Through it all, Svend persevered, seemingly unaffected.

In his statement last Thursday, Svend indicated that he had in fact “been suffering from severe stress and emotional pain,” “great inner turmoil” and “accumulated stress” for some time. It's not uncommon for people suffering under such a condition to act in a self-destructive manner, as Svend did when he stole an expensive ring. As Svend indicated, the theft was “an act that was totally inexplicable and unthinkable” and occurred in “a moment of utter irrationality.”

Last week, The Calgary Herald reprinted an eerily prescient quote from 1994 in which Svend stated that, “I can stumble but I can't fall. My life has to be squeaky clean in every conceivable way.” Even though he knew that he had made many enemies who were looking for an excuse to bring him down, “I won't allow that to happen. I will not allow that to happen. That's not to say I'm infallible. I'm a human being, God knows. But to the extent that I can maintain a credible position politically and publicly, that means that I can't in any way expose myself to vulnerability by doing dumb things personally.” And, until his actions of two weeks ago — actions that were wildly out of character for one of the most honest people I've ever met or worked with — he has succeeded in meeting that impossibly high standard.

What was in character was the responsible manner in which he has dealt with the fallout from his actions. Starting with turning the ring over and submitting a written apology to its owners, and moving on to a public admission of what he had done, Svend Robinson has earned more sympathy than condemnation. If only other politicians were so quick to admit their own mistakes, to accept responsibility for them, and to ask for forgiveness.

Typically, Robinson expressed more concern about having failed others than he did about his own fate. “As you can imagine this has been a nightmare. I cannot believe that it has happened, but I am human and I have failed. I have felt such a sense of privilege and honour to serve my constituents in Burnaby and indeed people across Canada, and feel an equally powerful sense of sadness that I have let them down. As I deal with this issue, I hope I will have their understanding and support.” For the most part, Svend has received the understanding and support for which he asked.

I don't really want to contemplate the thought of a Parliament without Svend Robinson. His constituents need him, and Canada needs him. But, Iâe(TM)m suppressing that fear right now, because I think that it is far more important for him to have the time and the space that he needs to deal with whatever is troubling him. We've leaned on him long enough, and he deserves a rest from political concerns. The rest of us will just have to work harder in his absence.

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