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HomeOpinionCommentaryThe perils of mendaciousness: The ideal role of virtue in political leadership

The perils of mendaciousness: The ideal role of virtue in political leadership

By Harvey Cenac

Rabbi Jonathan Spira-Savett asked Hillary Clinton, “how she balances the ambition it takes to run for president and the humility that it requires to live the life of services.”  Buried in Rabbi Spira-Savett’s question is the important virtue that we call humility – a quality that is needed for political leadership and any office of political power that is needed to serve the people.

The definition of the word virtue; is behaviour showing high moral standards; a commendable quality or personal trait or moral excellence. Educational accomplishment is not a virtue and should not be praised as one. Yet, as a people, we keep getting it wrong again and again. The important traits that we should praise any leader about, reside in the halls of virtues.

There are a number of different virtues we can consider such as humility, mercy, kindness, patience, peace, integrity, discretion, honesty, hard work, love, and faithfulness. In this article, I would like to highlight humility.

Modern-day history is filled with countless leaders from various backgrounds and virtues who have influenced millions of persons across the globe and apart from Hillary Clinton, one could include Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela in this group.

Winston Churchill was once asked: “Doesn’t it thrill you to know that every time you make a speech, the hall is packed to overflowing?” Replied Sir Winston: “It is quite flattering. But whenever I feel that way, I always remember that if instead of making a political speech I was being hanged, the crowd would be twice as big.” Someone once said that “flattery is like fine perfume. It is okay to sniff it, but don’t drink it!”

Nelson Mandela who was South Africa’s first black president and considered one of the greatest and most influential leaders of our era was well known for his humility. Saint Lucia was fortunate in experiencing and witnessing Nelson Mandela’s humility first-hand when he visited Saint Lucia in 1998 to participate in the 19th meeting of CARICOM heads of government. President Mandela also embraced the opportunity of his visit to attend a youth rally hosted in his honour also danced with the youths.

On the matter of leadership, Nelson Mandela was quoted in an interview with Oprah for O Magazine, in April, 2001 as saying: “ If you want the cooperation of humans around you, you must make them feel they are important – and you do that by being genuine and humble.”

Lets us cast our mind in the writings of the book of virtues. There are a lot of oxymorons in the writing, things that don’t make sense and things that seem to be contradictory on the surface. For example, giving is receiving and to live is to die. Well, humility comes because you are a servant. And, when you want to be served, that is an aspect of pride. So, whoever wants to be first must become last and be a servant. Greatness comes through being the least.

We sometimes think humility is confused as a character trait that represents weakness, when in fact it is one of the clearest signs of strength in an individual. And the demonstration of humility is best practised when a leader brings positive change to our world and is able to lift up others that are down; help the poor who may have less than them and help the criminals they have created by shafting them over the years with no representation. An inequity is created by a leader’s own intellectual bankruptcy when leaders have become the enemies of progress and have failed. We have seen many of our leaders who are on life support, but can only preach politics.

Even a fool can speak the divisive words of politics. However, when a leader can lead with humility and with compassionate hands, then and only then he understands his intellectual strength.

My hope is as we examine the emerging candidates for our parliamentary system that we will look for this type of humility in our men and women to serve in our country.  We need men that are prepared to deal with the emerging crime wave, poverty, inequity, social bankruptcy, unemployment, broken health care system, education, and the lack of investment in our human capital. I hope that we will look for this type of humility in our leaders to serve us regardless of political affiliation.

While our nation may be on life support, we should never think that leadership is for a privileged few. The invitation to reset the leadership criteria is more than a call to join an army of critics. Rather, it is an unfolding narrative that rejects intellectual arguments and the one-sided political agendas. The brighter future lies in the core traits and principles we believe are virtues of humility, integrity, services, hard work, compassion, freedom, human dignity, honesty, and individual and collective responsibility.

When we are able to bring men and women with such humility, then we will see a bright future ahead for our country.



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