Recently, the Clinton campaign proudly rolled out its new campaign plane, complete with the “Stronger Together” slogan emblazoned on the fuselage. The moment seemed to be something of an emotional pick-me-up for everyone, including the nominee. She even strolled into the press area of the plane (yes, this Clinton campaign vehicle has a place for the press!), chatting informally and taking reporters’ questions.
A “new” Hillary Clinton?
It certainly was a novel experience for the press corps. The last time Clinton had taken several questions from the press (discounting an address to a conference of journalists in August, which included some Q&A) was . . . well, let’s just say this little chat with the press could almost have been an anniversary celebration.
Is this the beginning of a new openness?
Of course, people have been talking for months, and then retracting what they said, about a ‘new’ Donald Trump, too. There’ll be a “pivot” toward the general election, some surrogates have promised. Trump even accepted an invitation from the president of Mexico for a little “looking presidential” field trip and appeared not to have demanded (in that meeting at least) that Mexico pay for the wall he promises he’ll build.
Is this the beginning of a new, more diplomatic approach to our neighbors, domestically as well as internationally?
In both cases, I think most observers would say the answer is, No.
Some would add, apologetically or perhaps even proudly, that this is just the way these would-be presidents are. Self-protective. Pugilistic.
Every human being has preferences about how to deal with others: how social we are and with whom, how open we are about our feelings and with whom, how willing we are to make demands or give commands, and how willing to respond to the direction of others. It even may be that some of this is coded in our DNA.
It is at least as likely, however, that we weren’t simply “born this way.” From earliest childhood on through our adulthood, we mold and chisel our personal preferences, our personality traits, out of the raw materials provided by life experiences.
My concern isn’t whether this is “nature” or “nurture.” I’ll gladly grant large percentages of responsibility to each.
But born or breed this way is not the same as having to behave this way. Our nature and our upbringing may make some things easy, some things less so, but they do not determine how we choose to act in any given situation. We still make choices, conditioned as they may be.
If we would choose to be leaders, especially leaders with serious responsibilities for the well-being of individuals (let alone nations), those we would lead have a right to expect some self-awareness, some ability to step outside of our comfort zone, and a great willingness, not simply to “do what comes naturally,” but to do what is best for those we seek to lead.
It’s not always about how we feel. It is always about what is right.
It is right to express compassion for those who are suffering, even if one isn’t really feeling it. A good leader knows compassion is the right response . . . and provides it, not simply for rating points, but out of a conscious commitment to those who are suffering.
It is right for a leader to be strong in a tough situation, even if one is feeling pretty weak. The good leader doesn’t exhibit strength just to shore up support in a key constituency, but out of commitment to the people who are relying on the leader to be strong.
Leaders aren’t born. Leaders aren’t made. Leaders become leaders because they choose to be leaders and learn to make choices that inspire others to follow.
Biology and background may make some of the critical choices easier for some than for others. History may provide a particular individual with a particular “package” with an easier path to ascendancy at a particular moment in time.
But we ought not to count on history to make us leaders.
We should count, instead, on the story we choose to tell with our lives. And that story is a choice, fashioned with immutable facts and unavoidable events, but fashioned nonetheless by the choices we make, choices that produce some of those facts and events, choices that are our response to them as well.
The story we choose to tell with our lives is what makes us fit or unfit for leadership, whether of the PTA or of the USA. Great leaders aren’t born that way; it is rather, how they have born what life has laid on their shoulders that makes them so.