Lessons from “Boys State”

Mark Stephens on the award-winning documentary "Boys State", and the importance of being willing to lose with and for your principles.

“I think he’s a fantastic politician. But I don’t think a fantastic politician is a compliment either.”

These are the words of Rene Otero, a young man who features prominently in the recent documentary “Boys State.” This award-winning film captures the passion and intrigue of a bunch of Texan high-schoolers experiencing a faux-government simulation of American politics. They debate. They campaign. They smear. Someone wins. But it’s hard to avoid the idea that we all lose. If this doco is anything to go by, the future of America looks remarkably similar to the present. And who could blame these young men? The lessons of politics might begin with ideals, but the logic of power seems inexorable: losers don’t get to legislate. So just win, and we’ll figure out the details later.

Your principles don’t matter much unless you are prepared to lose with them and for them. If the story you live by cannot cope with the possibility of loss and sacrifice, then anything is justifiable. The humility and hospitality that our politics needs can only come if we live out of a story where defeats can be positively endured, where weakness can be a virtue, and where the long game of legacy matters more than expediency and the cheap thrills of a moment.