Where Have All the Statesmen Gone?

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Has anyone ever inspired you—with their words or example—to change your course of action for the good, to move willingly and joyfully in a positive direction?

Does anyone stir you so deeply from within, that you are compelled to sacrifice your comfort zone for a greater cause?

That man or woman is a leader, and if he is in politics we might call him a statesman. Perhaps you agree with me; in the mid-term elections of 2006 political leaders—statesmen—are, at best, few and far between.

While there is reason for disappointment, I don’t think there is cause for despair. In fact, there exist grounds for great hope. Here’s why: the problem is not politics, it is politicians, it’s people, it’s you and me—and we can change, individually and as a society.

The Greek philosopher Plato considered politics the noblest of professions. He explained how the political leader concerns himself with the common good of the city-state (the people). He looks out for others. He sacrifices his time and talent for the betterment of his fellow citizens.

My experience working on university campuses confirms that this Greek idealism still tugs at the young American heart. Many talented youth start down the road of civil service to make this world a better place.

The impoverished state of politics, would suggest, then, the making of a statesman depends on more than good will. I propose it is a matter of character. Fewer people today have sufficient internal solidity—structural fortitude—to persevere in the face of adversity. We cave in to self-seeking ambition or give up all-together.

This epidemic of wishy-washiness is not coincidental. It has roots, I think. Many of us suffer what I call “structural damage” to our personalities. Broken homes, abusive relationships, and new and old types of addictions have claimed a high toll. When my brother was in the dating scene he complained to me, “They’ve all got issues!” And they do. We do, men and women alike.

But issues don’t have to determine character. We can learn from life’s hard knocks. As the knocks get harder, the stakes get higher. Either we allow ourselves the luxury of perpetual victimhood or we stand up, dust off, and become a leader for the rest, who, by the way, also have issues.

As we watch politics this week with relative disgust, let’s not overlook this lesson. Leadership cannot be improvised, for it is the product of character and charisma, not position and power.

The good news is people, not politics are the problem, and as people, we can change. We can form character and nurture charisma, individually and as a society. We will then have statesmen and “politics” will no longer be a bad word.

God bless, Father Jonathan

P.S. I think it would be interesting to discuss the qualities of a true leader. I’ve been thinking a bit about this on my own and would love to hear your ideas.

E-mail Father Jonathan



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