February 2008

Good evening!

The political season is indeed upon us with an intensity we haven't seen in decades. Quite interesting on multiple levels. Much to consider and to understand. But in looking at the field of candidates, I have been struck by the need to look for one important yet elusive quality in evaluating our next leader, their humility. The world is so dangerous and complex that a leader needs to understand what he or she doesn't know and have the humility to admit limits in both experience and understanding. Once you go down the road of defensiveness, there is typically no turning back.

Humility rightly practiced is attractive and draws you rather than the reverse. Despite an advertising culture which seems to celebrate a hard, cynical approach to life and relationships, (check out the Banana Republic ad campaigns), we all know that real life, on the quite granular level, is very different. We all notice humility and applaud it quietly as we live our lives. Last summer, I went to what was billed as the HippieFest with good friends, Steve Case and Bob Woody. (Don't tell them but I have pictures!). This was a gathering at Wolftrap, a performing arts venue outside Washington, where contemporaries of the Beatles like the Zoombies and the Turtles were holding forth. Sure the music was awesome. But what struck me most was the humility. Over and over, these aging rockers would express to the admiring crowd sentiments like, 'Can you believe that a couple of English school boys could make a living doing music? How grateful we are.' It was so so attractive, particularly as contrasted with many in the entertainment world today...some who have cultivated a hard edge of entitlement and hubris, frequently resulting in the emotional public train wrecks we witness on a daily basis.

Once Winston Churchill was asked to say something complimentary about his nemesis Lord Atlee. He paused and said, "He's a humble man...and for good reason." Ah, Winston, frequently wrong but never in doubt. But in Winston's private battles with depression (he called it the 'black dog'), he understood a humility born of the enormous challenges he faced both personally and geopolitically.

I'm convinced that humility is at root, a deeply spiritual attribute. The ability to look at one's life and to admit weakness, fault or wrong-doing, is contrary to our protective instincts. It's not natural...and that's just the point. It is contrary to our training to be strong and protective, an approach which frequently isolates us from others. By contrast, humility makes us welcoming and approachable.

The scriptures teach some interesting things in respect to humility. 'Pride comes before a fall.' Boy, is that a truism. Remember my White House colleague, Mike Deaver, on the cover of Time Magazine, stepping out of a limo with a phone to his ear with the tag line: 'Who is this man talking to?' This was the beginning of relentless focus and investigation of Mr. Deaver. Hubris causes a reaction which typically results in some humbling event.

Another curious line from scripture says that 'God resists the proud, but shows mercy to the humble.' Deep down we know the truth of this. When someone comes clean, we are quick to forgive, aren’t we? Marriage is a great teacher in this regard. Any time my wife and I argue, if I can find some emotional distance from the heat of battle and consider what I, not she, has done wrong, not surprisingly, the dynamics change. The cause of the conflict seems to be unimportant and simply melts away. (Believe me, I still like being 'right' and blaming her! Yet that strategy, surprisingly, seems not to work.).

So, what do I conclude from all this? I am convinced that my greatest life project is to reform myself rather than others. To dare and have the courage to look within and be unconcerned with the harm others have inflicted upon me. Not even to focus upon 'their' contribution, significant though it be. But rather, to be introspective and examine myself and be brutally honest about my own need to take responsibility and to change. This is truly liberating, particularly in a 'blame' culture. To not get defensive when criticized but to embrace the truth of what is being said and then seek to change, that is both the challenge and the opportunity. Lincoln when once harshly criticized, paused and responded that the charges were likely true, but then went on to muse that he was far worse than any critic could ever know. How refreshing! No need to defend and counter punch. I close with another of Lincoln's responses to the relentless criticism leveled his way during his White House tenure.

If I were to try to read, much less answer, all the attacks made on me,

this shop might as well be closed for any other business. I do the very

best I can; and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings

me out all right, what is said against me won't amount to anything. If

the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would

make no difference.

In pondering this notion, both in terms of our own lives and in choosing a future leader, may the often underappreciated virtue of humility be valued anew.

Keep looking within. Doug

 

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