Reject discord, embrace love

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Last night we held a truly historic election with many firsts, some of which we should celebrate, some which we should lament, and some that just are. The first female candidate of a major party is a first we should celebrate, regardless of who that woman may be or what she may represent. The first president to be elected without prior service in either government or the military is something which may be cause for celebration, lamentation, or neither. Only time can tell. And while far from being the most divisive election in history it has been a rough road these past many months. (For more on the history of divisiveness in politics, read up on the elections of 1800, 1828, 1860, 1884, and 1928; the feud between Vice President Aaron Burr and Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton which ended in the death of one; or the tumult of the 1960s, when political assassinations were all too commonplace.)

For many, this election did not go the way they had hoped, but for all of us, whether enjoying victory, grieving loss, or just wondering what happened, we should all remember that politics is still local. The president is still just one man and while that man may be, in many ways, the most powerful on Earth, his power still pales in comparison to the power you have over your own life and even the power you have over your community. If you seek change, let it begin with you.

And I plead most dearly to what I hope is a tiny minority so filled with anger that you are willing to lash out with violence, be it physical or even just verbal; resist that urge. Many, whether rightly or wrongly I will not judge, opposed our next president on the grounds that he would promote hate and violence. This may or may not be the case, but know that, whether he will or will not, you alone have the ultimate power over your own actions. You do not have to give in to your own desires to be hateful or divisive. Meet hate with love. Meet violence with peace.

In the history of the world, the men and women we admire most are the ones who have risen above the fray; Jesus Christ, Susan B Anthony, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela. Be like these men and women. Continue to fight for what you believe in and fight hard, for it is spirited debate that makes us all better. But fight civilly. Fight graciously. Fight respectfully. Fight peacefully.

Perhaps my greatest joy is that President-Elect Trump, Secretary Clinton, and President Obama all delivered some of the best speeches of this campaign season the day after the election. They were messages filled with magnanimity, unity, and support made all the more powerful because of the rancor that existed over the past many months between them. We should all take heed of their call.

And know that, whether you “won” or “lost” last night, things are not going to be as great or as dire as you hoped or feared. The sun will come up tomorrow and the day after that. Our nation will get through the next four years, and in the decades to come, this day will be largely forgotten. I promise you there are more important things happening today than what the news is reporting on; things so wonderful they give me great hope for our nation and our world. Children are being born. Young love is blossoming. Mothers and fathers are celebrating a child’s first steps of the final moments together before their child goes off to start a life of their own. And people are rejecting violence. Blacks and Whites, men and women, immigrant and native born are setting aside what are truly paltry differences and working together to better their communities with deeds as large as million dollar fundraising campaigns and as small, but equally important, as a smile or a door held open. These are the things that truly impact our lives. Let these be the things you build your memories upon. Let these be the things you celebrate today and in the weeks and months to come.

And for those of you who are in despair, know that I grieve with you, not because I despair over the outcome of last night or even the future, but that, simply, you despair and the fact that you suffer, regardless of wthe reason, grieves my heart. To be sure, we are in trying times and the divisiveness which we have thus far experienced and the uncertainty many have about the future serves as a catalyst for fear. And while that fear is not for all the same reasons – some may fear what measures President-Elect Trump and our new congress will pass and how those measures will directly impact their lives while others may fear whether those who have already called for violence against our next president are truly serious or simply venting as they process what was a shock to their expectations – I urge you all to join with me in choosing not to give in to that fear and its resultant divisiveness.

Tangibly, seek out a friend who differs with you and let him know that, despite your differences, you know that there is far more that unites you in friendship than could ever divide you in opposition. Tell her that, regardless of how she views our collective path forward, you understand that, like you, she only has the best of intentions and that, regardless of who may be in power, his power will never have the power to overcome your bond of friendship or the power of love.

Finally, take heart for the future, for I know that our best days are ahead. I know this because, while presidents, kings, and even capitals may come and go, Jesus was, is, and always will be Lord and as long as that is the case, we never have reason to despair.

May God bless you all and may He bless this nation and this world, for it is His blessing that has charted us through the past 400 years of our history and His blessing which will chart us through the coming four.

Staying True to Your Values Is Good PR

I am currently pursuing a certificate in Public Relations from the University of Washington. Last week we had our first two classes of Winter quarter and we started one of them off by discussing the biggest PR Disasters of 2012 as reported by Entrepreneur.com. Most of them are pretty common-sense: political gaffes and social media blunders. At least one of them, the whole Chick-fil-A episode, was clearly a biased attack on conservative values. (Another was a biased attack on large corporations but I won’t get into that.)

Of course, just because bad PR might be the result of a biased media or a left-wing army of “tolerance” doesn’t mean it isn’t PR or isn’t “fair”. Fairness doesn’t and shouldn’t have anything to do with good PR. In fact, it’s often just the opposite. The job of a good PR expert is to combat often times unfair or one-sided coverage with the truth. If Chick-fil-A really did handle the whole gay marriage thing poorly then its PR department should be taken to task for it.

But I don’t think they did. And more importantly, I don’t think good PR should have to blow in the wind of public opinion, especially when it’s public opinion about something so controversial as gay marriage. Just the opposite, good PR should be willing to stand by its company’s core values, regardless of what they are. This is perfectly demonstrated by another PR disaster of 2012, Susan G Komen’s flip-flop on support for Planned Parenthood. The debate there isn’t whether Komen should or shouldn’t support Planned Parenthood but that, once it makes a decision, it needs to stick by it. By flip-flopping on Planned Parenthood they angered not only a subset of supporters of Planned Parenthood (angry liberals that are looking to be offended and probably didn’t donate a lot, in aggregate, to Komen in the first place), but, more importantly, a group of people who either supported Komen’s original stance or are now rightfully wary of a company basing its philanthropic decisions on a media debacle that likely would have gone away just as quickly, if not more so, had it just kept quiet on the matter.

So good for Chick-fil-A. Its owners hold certain views (views which are held by half the population and probably and even larger percentage of Chick-fil-A customers) and they were willing to stand by those views. And because of that integrity, not only did Chick-fil-A do its single biggest day of business on a day that the left was launching a boycott, its quarterly earnings for that quarter were up 2.2% and its market share was up 0.6%

Furthermore, the “kiss-in” that was supposed to materialize later largely fell flat. And talk about a bad PR move! If you’re trying to get folks to stay away from a business to hurt their bottom line, it’s probably not the best idea to, then, encourage them to go to that business. Not only did many of these folks succumb to the tasty goodness that is a Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich, many of them probably realized that Chick-fil-A, despite what they may like to think, doesn’t want to burn homosexuals at the stake and treats all its employees and customers with dignity and respect.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, as a Christian (and I don’t think one has to necessarily be a Christian to adhere to this philosophy), integrity, staying true to one’s core values, is paramount. Look at all the PR disasters in the Bible. Moses comes down Mount Sinai with the very Word of God in his hands and the Israelites, still fresh from deliverance from Egypt, start worshiping a cow (and you thought politicians today had it bad!). God came down from Heaven and ended up put to death. For hundreds of years later His followers met much the same fate. Even today, Christians are persecuted around the world. But, as we know, that’s not where any of those stories ended. The Israelites reached the Promised Land. Jesus rose from the dead. Christianity is the largest religion in the world. And whether one believes in the eternal salvation of Christ or not, anyone with integrity knows that sticking to one’s beliefs in the face of adversity is what is true. As Lincoln said, “I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to what light I have.”

Love Actually Is All Around

One of our Christmas traditions is watching the movie Love Actually. We watched it on Saturday, the day after the horrible massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. The opening lines of the film struck me more than usual with the news fresh in my mind.

“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion… love actually is all around.”

As horrible as the massacre at Sandy Hook was – and make no mistake, nothing is more tragic than the brutal murder of so many young children – tragedy befalls this nation everyday. When a mother loses her infant to SIDS does she grieve any less? When a husband loses his wife to a drunk driver crossing the center line is his world not turned upside down? No, yet these moments are rarely covered in the media and certainly not on a national level. And this isn’t to say that the media shouldn’t have covered Sandy Hook or that they should cover the more “everyday” occurrences of tragedy. News is news because it is novel; something out of the ordinary. But as we watch these tragedies unfold we should be mindful that the novelty which brought their coverage is a reminder that “love actually is all around.” If the world really was filled with hatred and greed instead of love and charity these tragedies would be more commonplace, we’d be desensitized to them, and the media would be covering something else.

So grieve the children of Sandy Hook. But at the same time, and perhaps to a greater extent, celebrate the heroism of people like teacher Victoria Soto and therapist Rachel Davino, who were so full of love for their first grade students that they gave their lives protecting them. Celebrate six-year old Jack Pinto who was, in the words of his family, an “inspiration to all those who knew him.” His family also added that they would not dwell “on the loss but instead on the gift that we were given and will forever cherish in our hearts forever.”

Life is short no matter how long we live and every day should be cherished as a gift. Those days or moments that are extraordinarily good we should celebrate even more. And these moments don’t have to be newsworthy, although perhaps they should be. They can be the smile that lifts someone’s spirits on a dreary day. They can be the latte purchased by the person in front of you at the drive-thru. Many times they even rise to the level of newsworthiness, as did this story about a cop giving a motorist much more than a citation.

We may never truly know all the motives behind the tragedies that befall society but one hypothesis is fame. Even though these monsters often turn the gun on themselves in the end, perhaps realizing the magnitude of their act, it seems some do it for the attention they will receive. A Facebook post originally attributed to Morgan Freeman, despite being a hoax in some sense, nonetheless speaks the truth. The post ends by encouraging readers to “help by forgetting you ever read this man’s name, and remembering the name of at least one victim… You can help by turning off the news.”

I’ll go one further. We should encourage and spread good news, if we choose to make famous not the cowards hiding behind an arsenal of guns but the heroes that step in front of them perhaps our young people will grow up aspiring to this kind of fame instead. And I’ll say it, we could certainly benefit from some more solid morality in society. As a friend quipped, “some people ask how God could allow something so tragic to happen in a grade school; perhaps it is because God is no longer allowed in schools.”

Keeping it simple

“They say we offer simple answers to complex problems. Well, perhaps there is a simple answer- not an easy answer- but simple.”

– A Time for ChoosingOct 27, 1964, Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States (1911-2011)

President Reagan made this particular statement in reference to the conflict in Vietnam. He knew the simple answer was to do the right thing and fight the ever-growing threat of Communist expansion in Southeast Asia (and Eastern Europe). It’s never easy to go to war, risking life and limb in defense of liberty, but once the decision is made it is quite a simple proposition, especially with right on our side not to mention a superior arsenal. This simple strategy of war is best summed up in another quote from Reagan, “Here’s my strategy on the Cold War: We win, they lose.” Until the day the Berlin Wall fell and greater freedom was granted to millions of people living behind the Iron Curtain there were plenty of critics of this simplistic philosophy, but on November 9, 1989 Reagan was vindicated and totalitarianism was largely relegated to the ash heap of history. (Or so many thought but no, to answer Francis Fukuyama, there is never an end of history, for, as the quote erroneously attributed to Scottish Historian Alexander Tytler states,

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves money from the public treasury. From that moment on the majority always vote for the candidates promising the most money from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s great civilizations has been two hundred years. These nations have progressed through the following sequence: from bondage to spiritual faith, from spiritual faith to great courage, from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to selfishness, from selfishness to complacency, from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependency, from dependency back to bondage.”)

And just as the strategy for winning the Cold War was one of simplicity so, too, is the strategy for addressing all other problems that we face as a society. Contrary to what ivory towered intellectuals would like us to believe, Occam’s razor (lex parsimoniae) is correct; things are black & white. It may appear that the solution lies in that grey area for it may be difficult for some to discern the answer but in all probability this difficulty arises out of an over-complication of the problem.

In general, the solution to most of the problems being addressed by public policy is to do the exact opposite: make it private policy, eliminate the government program created to “solve” it and let the private sector take over. Privatize education. Privatize health care. Privatize welfare. As Albert Einstein said, “The only justifiable purpose of political institutions is to assure the unhindered development of the individual.” In other words, the government’s only job is to protect our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (also known as property); to ensure equal access, not equal results. Beyond that it is up to the charity of the community to ensure that the poor and enfeebled not go hungry, for the government cannot give assistance to one citizen without first taking it from another (and skimming a fairly sizable portion off the top in the form of bureaucratic inefficiency).

To this philosophy I devote the majority of this blog. These are my rants and ramblings on public policy, politics and pop-culture. And because I am a devoted Christian I will, from time to time, weigh in on matters of faith and religion as the Spirit leads me. I may throw in the occasional post on food, travel or some other truly enjoyable pastime, for as John Adams wrote in a letter to his wife Abigail,

“I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”


On rights

What is a right? The Constitution lists some of our rights as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and eludes to others making even this great founding document an imperfect source. Furthermore, many politicians today wouldn’t count the Constitution and its contemporary documents as the last word on rights. Indeed, if that were the case we’d have little need for constitutional matters in the courts.

I believe the definition of a right is simple however. A right is anything inherent in our being, something that, absent of organized civilization we would continue to possess. These rights are with us from birth and do not require the action of others for them to exist. These rights, while they may be defined in documents such as the Constitution, are not granted to us by the Constitution but by, as the Constitution states, the Creator.

Take, for example, the right to life. We are born into this world and from that moment on most of us live, more or less, without assistance, save that of our parents during the early years. For us to live we do not require a mandate of government and no one must take action for or give up any of their rights for us to possess life.

Some other examples are those laid out in the Bill of Rights. The right to freedom of speech and the freedom of assembly do not require the action of others. To infringe on that right, to silence someone or prevent a group of people from gathering, does require action. Of course, where these rights do infringe on others’ rights they cease to remain rights. One can not yell “fire” in a crowded room because that may cause undo panic and infringe on others’ right to safety and physical well-being. Neither can one threaten the life of another, especially when that person has reason to believe the threat may result in action.

The right to defend one’s self, i.e. the 2nd Amendment, too, is a right. It does not require the action of others to exist and, as long as one is truly defending themselves, does not infringe on the rights of others.

Of course there is one entity that does have the right and the duty to take action in defense of our rights and that is the government, but its actions must only go as far as preventing the actions of others when those actions infringe on our rights. For example, we have the right to life and liberty. When someone else chooses to infringe on that right by murdering or attempting to murder us or causes bodily harm or unlawful imprisonment or servitude the government must intercede to prevent those actions.

But what about other so-called rights? Many argue that education and health care are a fundamental human right. They are certainly something we as a society should try to provide for everyone but they are not rights simply because the existence of these requires the action of others. One does have the right to educate himself and provide his own health care but that is as far as it can go. For society to provide education and health care to every one of its citizens would require the action of others in society, whether they chose to take that action or not. If someone breaks his leg and is unable to set the bone himself someone else must step in to do it for him. Of course doing so if one is able is the humanitarian thing to do but it should not be a requirement in a free society. Furthermore, if someone does attend to the wounded, at least in a professional setting, they are typically compensated for their actions. If the person who breaks his leg is unable to compensate the person who attends to it then where does the money come from? Either the doctor must go without compensation or a third party must be taxed in order to pay for the procedure. A similar argument can be made for education. One can not be educated without the assistance of another who, in a professional setting, is typically compensated for that assistance.

Of course we live in an imperfect society and government should provide some things which, while not rights (because government can’t provide something which is granted to us by the Creator and the Creator alone) would be impractically provided by the individual or the private-sector or worse, could have the potential for abuse. Chief among these is defense. While my right to defense begins and ends with me, a good society should defend the defenseless with entities such as the military, the police and the justice system. Of course these entities should be public, the potential for corruption in the hands of the private-sector being too great. Surface roads, too, are best built and managed by local government as, logistically, paying for such construction and maintenance through tolls would be much too complicated. Other services, including welfare, education and health care may, too, be best provided in certain circumstances by government but one must always remember that these provisions are not rights but services which could potentially disappear at anytime and to lament the absence of these services as a great tragedy of human rights is naïve and demonstrates a lack of understanding of what constitutes a right.

Faith, morality and the law

Republican Senatorial candidate Rand Paul recently spoke with Christian Broadcast Network’s David Brody. During the interview he stated “that Christianity and its values are the basis of our society.” This has some people a bit apoplectic, believing, perhaps, that if Paul is elected it will usher in some sort of Christian theocracy reminiscent of the Inquisition. One person I know may not have gone that far but still believes that “Rand Paul believes that if we were all Christians we wouldn’t need laws,” and thinks that supposed belief, and others, I assume, make Paul a “train wreck on so many levels.”

Putting aside the ridiculous assertion that having Christian leaders will lead to Christian theocracy and disregarding what Paul does or does not believe let’s just take a look at this supposed belief.

Paul later states that “laws only work because most of us don’t need laws” and I whole-heartedly agree with that sentiment. There are simply not enough police officers to deal with the crime wave that would ensue if anything more than a small fraction of society were law breakers. We see this in many inner-city neighborhoods. Regardless of why so many have chosen to turn toward crime, the fact is, in places like those, the cops can’t keep up with demand and the neighborhood is lost. Some neighborhoods are so bad that law enforcement no longer travels there on a regular basis if at all, ceding the territory to gang leadership. Yes, the simple fact is our own moral compasses keep most of us in line more than any laws do.

Furthermore, the laws of any society are set by that society’s morals so, ipso facto, if everyone were moral then there would be no need for law. And since, despite what many today may claim, this nation was founded on a Judeo-Christian morality based on the laws of the Bible; even Paul’s alleged theory that if everyone were a Christian we wouldn’t need laws, is correct.

This, of course, requires a different definition of the word Christianity as all who are or might claim to be Christian, fall drastically short on a regular basis, going so far as to break man’s law; i.e. the priest who molests the altar boy or the pastor who embezzles the church coffers. Perfect Christianity is perhaps a better descriptor; namely that if everyone followed the teachings of Christ, whether they believed in Him or not, as they applied to life here on earth (the more supernatural aspects like worshiping but one God or actually believing that Christ is the Savior, etc. need not necessarily apply) to the letter, society wouldn’t need the laws of man. After all, they’d be following the laws of God.

The other argument one might throw out is that of contract law, stating that morality doesn’t apply when someone is, say, purchasing a house from another party. This is not the case. Contracts are written to ensure both parties are receiving an equitable deal, in other words, that neither one is being cheated. Now, perhaps, the offending party may not be cheating on purpose and the offended party may not feel they are being cheated, but in a perfect world, i.e. one where both parties are privy to all the necessary information, contracts would not be necessary. Furthermore, unintended inequality would not be solved through contract law, only through knowledgeable negotiation; the contract only following. Think of it this way; if you and a friend were setting out on a cross-country road trip would you write a contract covering the equitable distribution of gas, food and lodging expenses? If your friendship was true and built on trust, no, you would not.

As James Madison stated in The Federalist #51, “if men were angels, no government would be necessary.” I applaud Paul for speaking his mind and not pandering to what may be politically correct or expedient. His candidness is a breath of fresh air in a long stagnant political realm.

What Is Politics?

An essay I wrote as part of my application to the Washington State Legislative Internship Program into which I was later accepted.

Politics is the art of making a community, be it a neighborhood, city, or the world at large, a better place to live. Ever since I was a young boy I have always been interested in politics. In second grade I rode the school bus to and from school. Even though I lived only twenty minutes away by car the journey on the school bus took nearly an hour and a half. It was not an enjoyable part of the day to say the least but it did give me time to think. Often my mind would turn to making the community, in this case the Seattle School District and more specifically the student transportation division, a better place.  In other words, my mind would turn to politics. As I sat there on that green vinyl seat I would think to myself, “If I were in charge of planning out the school bus routes I certainly could figure out a better way to get all the students home in a quicker amount of time.”  And, I’m proud to say, my solution did not include the bus taking me to my house first.

As I grew older and learned more, my political solutions to problems such as these became even better. I began to think, “Why is there a school bus anyway? Why can’t I just go to the school half a mile from my house?” Now, of course, these ideas were not born of my own ingenuity. I feel very fortunate to have been raised by some very intelligent people who would often watch programs such as the McNeil/Leherer New Hour before sitting down to dinner, where the topic of conversation often turned to history, science, and politics.

In these formative years I may have dabbled in politics of a sorts, thinking of how the world could be a better place, but my real interest in politics did not fully materialize until much later when I began to attend the Bush School, a small preparatory school in Seattle. Here, every Wednesday, the high school met as a group for a thing called Forum.  We would sometimes preview the school play or take part in a scavenger hunt or karaoke contest but more often than not Forum was a chance to talk about the issues. Sometimes these issues revolved around school and how we could best maximize our lunchtime but just as often it would revolve around more important issues such as peace in the Middle East or how to help the homeless of Seattle. Forum, as well as the great teachers at Bush, helped to mold me into the political person I am today. There are few things I like better than engaging in a heated discussion about gay rights, welfare, or the national debt and while I hear many a groan emerge around the university campus about how many pages one has to write on the emerging power struggle in Venezuela, I actually look forward to sitting down at the computer and typing up my thoughts on why Switzerland may or may not decide to join the European Community.

My father is a hard-core conservative. The grandparents who helped to raise me are moderate. My mother is a radical liberal. These three very different viewpoints have given me a very open mind and, most importantly, a penchant for politics. In high school and now in college this has continued to grow. I love discussing the issues with those who share my viewpoints as well as with those who differ in ideologies. An internship in Olympia would be an outstanding opportunity in my political progression. It would give me more of the real world experience one needs to pursue that noble art of politics, that art of making the community a better place. The first hand knowledge I will gain and the connections I will make will be invaluable.

The Servant Leader

A servant leader is one who seeks to serve first, to be a selfless and humble man or woman of and for the people, and then who, through much prodding by his companions and through extraordinary circumstances, becomes a leader of those people.  A servant leader is one who shuns, not desires the limelight. He is one who always gives credit where credit is due and may sometimes even go further in crediting others with ideas that belong mostly to him.

The idea of the servant leader has been around forever in one form or another but has most recently come to be defined by a series of essays written by Robert K. Greenleaf, a longtime AT&T executive in the area of management research and a consultant to countless other companies and organizations.  He took his idea of the servant leader from Herman Hesse’s character, Leo, in the book Journey to the East, and characterizes a servant leader as someone who puts the needs of those he serves before the needs of himself.  He also writes that a leader must have vision and initiative.  He must listen and be empathetic to those he serves.  He must possess intuition and have a feel for patterns.  He must be persuasive in getting what he wants, not coercive.  He also must be willing to take risks and then be able to reflect on them.  He must have strong ethics.  He must have the strength to choose what is right.  He must have an awareness of his surroundings and the choices available to him so that he can make the right choice now before the only choice left to him is an unethical one.  He must be in touch with his emotions and be able to laugh and he must have an individualism that allows him to be a goal setter and a strategizer.  He must also be able to take a break or a retreat from all his serving.

I would say one of the best examples of servant leadership I have witnessed recently is that of James Ellis.  He barely took any credit for all of the wonderful ideas he helped to realize.  Instead he made himself out to be more of a go-between, as in the story he told of getting support for Metro.  He stated that it wasn’t his idea.  It was partly his wife’s and partly the mayor of Seattle’s.  All he did was join the two parts and was bestowed with the credit that he does not wish to take.  He also epitomizes the servant leader ideal of doing one thing at a time.  He knew that going straight for support of a county-wide transportation system was a losing battle.  He knew it was just too big a project with too much cost to be accepted by the citizen’s of King County.  He also knew, however, that starting a campaign to clean up Lake Washington was one that could be won.  And he did so by not over-promising.  Instead of going to the voters with a bare minimum bid he padded it, telling them it would cost more and take longer than he anticipated.  That way, when the project eventually came in way under budget and in a lot less time than the campaign had originally stated the voters all of a sudden had a renewed faith in their government.  This faith paved the way for James Ellis’s transportation campaign.  The other thing that makes him a servant leader is he did this all for the people.  He did not do this for his own glory but for the county’s.  He was so much of a servant leader in this aspect that he actually went into debt at the start of the campaign to clean up the lake.  His other great attribute as a leader is one that is definitely lacking in a lot of today’s governments and that is a sense of reality.  Today Seattle is trying to build all sorts of things with no money.  James Ellis realizes that to build something, and to build it well, takes a lot of personal sacrifice from the citizens.  In order to build a decent transit system, better than we have today, will take more money than most of us wish to part with as taxpayers but it is nonetheless essential.

I do believe that all good and great leaders are servant leaders.  One cannot truly lead when he does not know what the people want.  This is the whole idea behind democracy, but even in a democratic system as great as the United States we are still faced with flaws in our leaders.  Many of our leaders today are wishing to get elected not to help the citizens but for their own glory; to be able to say they were a senator, or a president. But when comparing this system to many others we can still see that servant leadership is the most effective.  The monarchies of old were the very opposite of servant leadership and it is obvious by all the poverty and pain suffered by the serfs under those systems that those who wish to lead for their own benefit are the worst kind of leaders.

The Good Manager

A good manager is, first and foremost, a good person; someone with good character and good virtues.  This person, according to philosophers like David Hume and Benjamin Franklin, exhibits many qualities, among them benevolence, honesty, loyalty, discretion, enterprise, patience, perseverance, forethought, considerateness, good manners, and ingenuity. This person does not behave simply legally or only follow his duties.  Instead, this person goes the extra mile and excels at his job, whatever it may be.

Part of being a good manager also includes being a good leader and a good leader is one who, more than anything else, leads by example and does not judge people lest he be judged.  How much time is a good manager spending analyzing what others do in comparison to self-analyzing? Sure, it is part of a manager’s job to evaluate those employees under him but if he is guilty of the same faults that he is pointing out in others then his employees won’t be taking him too seriously.  As the Scottish philosopher, Robert Carlyle, pointed out, “The greatest of faults is to be conscious of none.”

However, when it does come time to evaluate his employees, a good manager will give a positive evaluation.  This does not simply mean that he will only highlight the positive attributes and work habits of his employees—obviously pointing out areas where his employees need improvement is important too—it means putting a positive spin on the recommendations, planting roses instead of pulling weeds.  The good manager will tell his habitually tardy employee: “I would like to see you work harder to show up on time for work.  Perhaps you could set your clocks ahead five minutes,” instead of: “Don’t keep coming to work late or you’re fired.”  Of course it may come to letting that employee go, but if the manager is willing to give his employee another chance then he needs to really give that employee another chance.  A positive attitude does wonders for leadership.  Negativity breeds angst amongst employees and can lead to complacency amongst the staff.  In extreme cases it can lead to intense examination of the manager’s habits, which, if deemed unprofessional can result in her being “reassigned” or, if deemed illegal (say, forging people’s signatures on their quarterly evaluations), can lead to her being implicated in a class-action lawsuit.  (Yes, this happened to a former manager of mine.)

Along these same lines, a good manager will also be encouraging to his employees.  He will never hesitate to point out the good work that his employees are doing, giving specific examples.  On the flip side of that, a good manager will not let his praise get out of hand for an employee with too much pride. Too much self-esteem will be no good to the company either and can even hurt it.

A good manager will also instill a sense of esprit de corps in his employees.  Every employee in his group will do things not only for himself, not simply for a paycheck, but for the greater good of the company.  As Aristotle stated, “…though it is worthwhile to attain the end merely for one man, it is finer and more godlike to attain it for a nation or city-states.”  In doing this the manager will instill a sense of achievement amongst his employees, thereby bringing about true happiness that comes only with fulfillment of one’s goals.

A good manager will also know the median between company profits and personal relationships.  They will, in a sense, find the mean as Aristotle put it. They will live the answer to the question posed by Epictetus: “Which do you want more, money or a self-respecting and trustworthy friend?”  For what good is success if you have to hurt those you depend on to achieve it? Something Kenneth Lay obviously didn’t understand.

Something else the head of Enron didn’t understand was one of the most obvious and important character traits; honesty.  In Character is Destiny, author Russell Gough relays the comments of a man who had been stealing electronics from the company he works for.  This is a pretty black and white scenario and it’s no wonder that the man was fired.  It’s rather surprising, in fact, that the company didn’t press charges.  Sometimes, though, the dilemma may be less black and white, as it was in the case of the man who received more change back than he should have but after struggling with his dishonesty finally returned the money to the grocery store. This is an example of a man making an honest decision after being faced with something that wasn’t necessarily black and white.  After all, he didn’t steal the money; he was given it and would have been completely within the law to keep it.  Along the same lines, a good manager will do the ethical thing even when the law doesn’t require him to do so.  This may be even more difficult than returning money, as was the case when Gough himself purchased a van from a couple only to have it break down on the way home. How many of us would do the ethical thing by paying for the towing and repair costs at great expense to ourselves?  Perhaps a manager may have to take responsibility for the actions of one of his employees, even though the manager had no direct hand in that particular action.  The good manager, though, will realize that part of the blame may rest on him because his employee was not adequately trained.

A good manager will also be a just manager and will take pleasure in being just.  This is a paramount trait required in being not only a good manager but also a good person.  As Aristotle pointed out in his Nicomachean Ethics, describing pleasure as a state of the soul, “…no one would call a man just who did not enjoy acting justly.” In other words, a good manager will do the right thing and will take pleasure in doing the right thing.  They will be good even when no one is watching.

The Top Four Qualities of a Leader

The four most important attributes or qualities of a leader are vision, courage, awareness, and decisiveness.

Vision, in a leadership sense of the word, is the ability to see things that others cannot.  It is a “sixth sense,” one might say.  One who has vision has not truly “seen” his idea because it has not been realized yet.  He knows, however, that it can exist.  Take, for example, Albert Einstein, a truly undisputed leader of academia and science.  He was unable to prove his theory of relativity when he first came up with the idea or had the “vision.”  He still knew it to be true though.  Einstein knew that E=mc2, even if he couldn’t “show” anyone that it was true.  In the same manner a political leader may “see” an idea of how he thinks the country should be run but, of course, will not be able to do anything about it until he is put into some position of power and even then may not see his idea realized until he has stepped down from that position of power, as is apparent in the vision of one of America’s great leaders, President Monroe, who had a vision of “Manifest Destiny,” a United States stretching from “sea to shining sea,” so to speak.  Yes, vision is one of the most important attributes of a leader, for without it that leader will have nothing to lead others toward. At most, he will simply be cheering his compatriots on, something that is all too often mistaken as leadership even though it makes up only a small fraction of what a leader is and does not even fall into the top four attributes discussed here.

Courage is the ability to march toward a goal even in the face of strife, be it physical danger, the possibility of humiliation, or simple failure.  To fail in reaching a goal is not the end of the world and it does not have to be the end of a leader.  It is better to have tried and failed miserably than to have not tried at all.  Suppose Roosevelt had feared too much the countless lives sacrificed in battling the Japanese and the Germans during World War II.  What if Kennedy had felt it too dangerous to risk the lives of American men in our quest to conquer space?  Imagine if Columbus had taken the advice of his fellow Europeans and kept the Santa Maria nestled safely at anchor off the coast of Spain.  Without courage it is certain that humanity would not be where it is today.  Courage allows a leader to “push the envelope” and accomplish the goals required in order to reach his vision.

Awareness is the other side of the coin from courage. A leader who has courage but no awareness is liable to lead his troops into certain failure and while, as I said above, a leader should not be afraid to fail, marching into a barrage of machine gun fire armed only with a sword is not courage, it’s stupidity. The Soviets may have cleared the first hurdle of the Space Race before the U.S. They put the first satellite and the first man into space. They even succeed in bringing Mr. Gagarin back to earth in one piece. However, in all their rush to be the first, they also needlessly sacrificed several cosmonauts. A leader, too, must be aware of not only those things that he faces but also of those things that he leads.  He must know what “the people” want of him because even if he has vision, courage, and an awareness of the enemy or challenge which he faces, if he has no idea what people are saying about him behind his back he’s liable to get a knife in it à la Julius Caesar.

Lastly, in the list of top four attributes of a leader, is decisiveness.  Decisiveness is the ability to make decisions, often quite difficult ones, quickly and, hopefully, with a minimum of casualties, although given the choice it is often better to sacrifice the latter for the former.  If a leader sits around too long thinking, hemming and hawing, trying to decide what the better course of action is, pretty soon there will be no course of action.  His decision will already have been made for him.  Chances are, too, that decision will definitely not have been the one he would have picked.  Case in point:  A counter-terrorist agent is poised, looking over the detonator of a hydrogen bomb set to blow up the International Court of Justice and half The Hague in exactly five seconds.  Does he cut the red wire or the blue wire?  Come on!  Which one is it?!  Oh, he didn’t decide quickly enough.  Too bad.  Everyone’s vaporized.

There are many attributes a leader must posses to be effective but without vision, courage, awareness, and decisiveness, the others are not of much use.