This morning, U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham sat down on the stage at Queen Street Playhouse to talk to a packed house at Creative Mornings Charleston. He promised to discuss the trials and tribulations he experienced in life, pre-politics. As he put it: “The shit people usually don’t talk about.”
Admittedly, some political talk would have been interesting, but Cunningham stuck to the basics, waxing poetic about how he got to where he is now.
Anyone can Google Cunningham’s bio — born in western Kentucky, the youngest of five boys, his father is a former Kentucky Supreme Court Justice, and his career has included stints as both an engineer and a lawyer. He currently represents South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District.
Cunningham spoke on the assigned CM theme, ‘lost,’ referencing times in his life when he felt like he lacked focus and direction. At 37 years old, Cunningham acknowledged that he was likely older than a lot of the audience, pointing to his first ‘lost’ moment, the 2008 recession’s impact on his job.
Getting laid off is a big setback, of course, but it certainly isn’t unusual. None of Cunningham’s ‘lost’ moments were particularly revelatory, and none of his advice anything we (those of us under the age of 37) hadn’t heard before.
But for all his reliance on well-worn quotes, Cunningham is a man of the people. He’s charming, approachable, self-deprecating, and even a little raw at times. “You’re gonna be with yourself a hell of a lot longer than you’re gonna be with anyone else,” he said, pointing out, “No one else’s opinion matters but your own.”
“There’s not always going to be a burning bush,” says Cunningham. There won’t always be a guiding light or a Northern star or a sign that says, “Come on down this path, we promise it’s safe.” Cunningham says that he got to be here, with us on the stage today, because he was drawn to Charleston, because he was drawn to working with and for people.
His advice may not be revolutionary — some form of ‘be true to yourself’ — but it is the kind of thing you like to hear from your congressman. He preaches empathy and listening to other people. He encourages people to “take a step off the ledge,” that it is “better to regret the things you did do than those you didn’t.”
“Follow your heart,” he tells the crowd, “Because we need more people like that in the world.”