There are good reasons to urge Michael Bryant to return to politics soon — not in spite of his traumatic encounter that fateful evening three years ago as a result of which Darcy Sheppard lost his life, but because of it. Bryant’s account of it in his book, 28 Seconds: A True Story of Addiction, Tragedy, and Hope is a moving description of a painful yet wholesome path from hubris to humility.
And the world needs humble politicians. They’re likely to better serve those who elected them. Bryant’s testimony is, therefore, very important: “If I ever find myself involved in politics again, it will be for the original reason: human connection.” He admits to having lost the human touch to self-promotion and bravado when he was an MPP and a powerful minister in the Ontario government. The ordeal on a Toronto street changed him for the better. He should be given a chance to prove it for the benefit of us all.
Michael Bryant’s recovery from alcoholism is part of the evidence. He writes that he had learned in the process that “helping others, rather than oneself, is a blessing of the highest order.” Returning to politics will enable him to fuse this humanizing insight with his obvious intelligence, impressive talent and — yes — ambition to lead. It should also shield him from the arrogance that, by his account, had soured his relationship with Premier Dalton Mc Guinty.
The once-wunderkind of Ontario politics describes the process of his growth as a human being in the face of tragedy: “I began to shed my prideful aspirations, my hubris, my delusions of control and invincibility, my cocksure notions of what matters in life. I began to benefit from a downsized ego, a more generous perspective, a capacity to see the joy of small blessings.”
Of course, cynics, perhaps with agendas of their own, will regard Bryant’s repeated assurances of having changed for the better as a ploy. There are good reasons to repudiate that view. To suspect or reject remorse can be no less a transgression than the many past shortcomings to which Bryant admits.
Though he doesn’t seem to regard himself as a man of faith and his references to spirituality are oblique, his humbling experience and determination to change his ways, which can be discerned throughout the book, are akin to a religious conversion.
Once in office again, I hope Bryant will also be able to act on the difference between guilt and responsibility that permeates the book. No, he’s not guilty in the death of Darcy Sheppard; the prosecution dropped all charges against him. But he nevertheless somehow feels responsible for it. His is a human, a humane, a religious response.
The experience should serve him well as a potential leader in a society in which all members must share responsibility for its ills and be prepared to take steps to make things better for this and future generations. I can’t think of a more compelling reason to vote for Michael Bryant and all others of his ilk, irrespective of political affiliation.
Towards the end of the book he describes an encounter with Margaret Wente, the Globe and Mail columnist, who notices the change in his appearance. He misunderstands it as a comment on his state of mind and says, “I found humility, Margaret.” To which she responds: “Humility looks good on you.” It does indeed.
Dow Marmur is rabbi emeritus at
Toronto’s Holy Blossom Temple.
His column appears every other week.