I took my title from George Orwell. I read his essay "Shooting an Elephant" in a college writing class more than 30 years ago. Then last week I read it again. It was assigned to my son John in AP World History. He had it up on our family computer and I found myself reading it with him.

The opening sentence: “In Moulmein, in Lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people — the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me.”

I had remembered this sentence — or, to be more precise, I remembered the part that came after the word “Burma.” (With Orwell, I always feel the need to be precise.) I think my writing professor harped on this sentence. In any event, it stuck in my mind. And a few years ago I began to cogitate over it.

I began to cogitate over it when I, myself, had become important enough to be hated by large numbers of people.

The experience Orwell describes occurred when he was a police officer in a British colony where he and his type were not welcomed by the bulk of the locals. My experience was markedly different. My experience with being hated came about during my service in the Maine Legislature, when — unlike Orwell — I felt supported by the bulk of the locals (and four elections showed that I wasn’t deluded in thinking so). But nonetheless, many local people hated me then — and I suspect a few do still.

Now you may be thinking that “hate” is a strong word. Don’t we throw around the words “love” and “hate” about politicians without really meaning either? Isn’t it simply a more dramatic way to say who we support and who we don’t? Of course.

But that’s not what I’m talking about. Some people truly detest me, while a few actually view me as evil. I know because I’ve read what they have written. (Facebook keeps no secrets.) And I’ve heard secondhand what some have said of me. A bold few have told me to my face.

I’m not hurt by this as I once was. I now chalk it up mostly to the oddities of human nature. Yet how truly bizarre to ponder that someone might — for instance — become nauseous just thinking of me. Or perhaps used to, back when I was thought to be important, thought to be a threat.

I suspect I began to be viewed as a threat by some in late 2008, soon after House Democrats elected me majority leader. More than a few former supporters turned against me in 2009, after the Legislature passed Marriage Equality and I was widely quoted in the press about how proud I was of my colleagues. To some, my role helping bring about that evil made it clear I was dangerous. And, of course, my many sins were broadcast far and wide in 2010, when — termed out in the House — I ran for the State Senate.

I wasn’t viewed negatively just because I was a leading Democrat or because I dared run for a Republican Senate seat. My additional problem was that I wasn’t the right kind of Democrat, the kind to whom standard political labels easily stick. I complicated the job of those Republican operatives focused on my defeat. I also angered them.

They saw hypocrisy. How — for instance — could I hold opinions on tax policy that seemed to blend views from the Left and the Right? First, I suspect they couldn’t comprehend anyone who did not fall squarely into one camp or the other. (If you see only black and white, gray is not a color, just an unacceptable compromise.) Second, I’m sure they couldn’t believe I could hold any view that wasn’t left of center, given that I had, after all, been chosen by liberals as House majority leader. So I must be lying. I must be saying things just to stay in office. In fact, that must be how I got elected in the first place. It helps explain why so many local Republicans support me — because I’m fooling them.

(The same reasoning — though on a different level, with much higher stakes — is what leads some Democratic insiders to hate Olympia Snowe or Susan Collins.)

To some I was clearly a threat. I was smart, articulate, and — did I say?  — good looking. (In years to come, when I’m even older, grayer and fatter, I hope I’ll remember that I was once described by a political adversary as having “walked off the pages of GQ.”) With my wily ways and persuasive powers, I was a seductive threat. (Hide your women! Cover your ears!) And after the State Senate, what was next? The Blaine House? The U.S. Capital? Stop him now!

To some I was a snake oil salesman. To others, the snake itself.

Stomp him!

This past weekend I was reminded of my first campaign for the Legislature. Once again, the spark was my son. John’s high school choral group — the Mount View Chamber Singers — puts on a variety show as a fundraiser each year. It’s called the “Olde Time Radio Hour” and features — between acts of students singing or playing piano and guitar — a number of skits suggestive of what you hear on "Prairie Home Companion." One of the perennial favorites — “Galen’s Bovine Boutique” — follows a dairy farmer who goes to great lengths to keep his cows happy and healthy. This year, John was Galen.

The skit playfully honors Galen Larrabee, a Knox farmer who in 2002 was my Republican opponent.

I doubt if anyone thought I would win that election. Not only was I running as a Democrat in a conservative district, but it was a three-way race, with a Green candidate expected to divide the Left. Beyond this, I was new to the community, having lived there only 14 years — no time at all in this part of Maine. All I had to counter these deficiencies was a few locals who had come to know and trust me through some community work. But word spread that I was smart and hardworking and practical, and thus worth a look — regardless of ideology. (I believe this is also how I was elected House majority leader six years later.)

I don’t recall many details of the campaign, but I remember that neither Galen nor I attacked each other. Far clearer in my mind is what happened after I won: Galen and I started working together. By 2003, the dairy industry was in crisis, and legislative assistance was sought. I was fortunate to serve on the Ag Committee, to which I brought knowledge about vegetable farms and direct marketing; but I knew little about dairy and nothing about the complexities of federal milk pricing. I had a lot to learn.

Galen became the dairy industry’s point person at the State House, and we worked closely for years. We pushed the 2004 bill that is generally credited with saving the industry at the time, and worked just as hard a few years later, when that law needed tweaking. I’ve sat with Galen more than once in some corner of the State House well past midnight, waiting for the Appropriations Committee to act, plotting strategy to lobby legislators and the governor.

Our partnership shows how well politics can work at times. (When I reflect on that, and also think about the current crisis in dairy, I sometimes regret that I no longer serve in the Legislature.)

As I sat in the audience at Mount View last Friday night, listening to my son read his script, I thought about how good a man Galen is. And I thought anew about how good it is to live in this community, with its farms and farmers, and everyone else I know and love, and how I mustn’t let a few bad apples debase the tree. I also thought about my son. I wondered how he will be treated if, as an adult, he doesn’t quite fit with expected labels and yet tries to make a difference in his community.

Without Orwell’s troubling experience in Burma, we would never have those particular insights on imperialism. Perhaps there is also value in my experience, if it helps open even one mind to think differently about people and politics. But I don’t want my son to experience what I have. I want the future to offer far more than a chance to teach lessons that shouldn’t need to be taught.

John Piotti of Unity is executive director of Maine Farmland Trust. His column “Cedar and Pearl” appears every other week.