When I was in my senior year of high school, I ran for a position on the executive board of our high school's National Honor Society chapter. I ran against nine other people, and four of us would be elected; one for each of the societies four pillars. We each had to prepare a speech and come up with a plan for how we wanted to lead the society.
A week after we prepared our speeches and plans, the honor society had a meeting to remind everyone to vote after school. All the candidates re-hashed their speeches and asked everyone to consider voting for them. Then, we all went through the school day, waiting until after school to submit votes.
This was our opportunity for campaigning; we weren’t specifically told to campaign; it didn’t really occur to me to do anything extra since the election was not school-wide - only National Honor Society members could weigh in. One girl, I’ll call her Rachel, took it upon herself to make sure she won the election. She showed up to school early that day in a nice dress and tall boots. She brought enough posters to hang up in every classroom (even the ones she had never been in previously), all of which shouted “Vote Rachel Smith” in all-capital red white and blue. She walked around the halls all day during passing periods and after school, bribing people with candy. “I can only give you candy if you promise to vote for me” she said with a smile.
According to the Merriam Webster online dictionary, opportunism is “the art, policy, or practice of taking advantage of opportunities or circumstances, often with little regard for principles or consequences.” The National Honor Society election was a circumstance for opportunism. Rachel saw that (most) high school students like candy and that the more often her name was seen/heard, the more likely she was to get votes. Rachel’s affinity for this form of political opportunism gave her a spot on the National Honors Society executive board. Alas, I did not do any extra campaigning and spent the year as a normal member of the society.
I wanted a spot on the executive board, so why didn’t I practice opportunism like Rachel did? Like I mentioned earlier, it was partly because it did not even cross my mind to do so. Rachel always had an ambitious demeanor. She was ruthless in her quest to be a perfect college applicant, and one of our english teachers even called her the “Terminator.” She never hesitated to assert her own opinions and she was almost always right.
We were both relatively smart: honors students with top grades and lots of passed AP tests under our belts. Where we differed, however, was in our personalities and general ways of thinking. I was shy and soft-spoken in high school. I knew I would feel “slimy” advocating for myself as strongly as Rachel did - in my view, people should vote for those with the best speeches and leave it at that. The way I saw it was that anyone who campaigned for themselves so strongly would be seen as superficial. I thought that my strategy was superior because it was genuine and simple.
Even so, after I thought about it, I saw the merit in Rachel’s strategy. The extra work she did showed dedication and drive. To someone like her, the way I handled the election may have seemed lazy and uncommitted. The two of us had different definitions of what was right, best, and ethical.
I did not win the election - so does that prove opportunism to be the better strategy? This is a difficult question to answer. Rachel is currently studying on the pre-law track at a top-notch university and spending summers in the nation’s capital. Her personality traits will certainly serve her well in this kind of environment. The field of politics seems to necessitate opportunism; if you don’t shamelessly advocate for yourself, you will get lost because there will always be someone else willing to do so for themselves. Can success exist without opportunism? Is it possible to to find survive in a capitalist society without it?