February 22, 2007

COMMON MAN, UNCOMMON LEADER

By Senator Mike Crapo

February is a great month to talk about Abraham Lincoln's roots as a common man, a man of the people. Lincoln lived a timeless example that provides no less leadership for America today than when he was at the country's helm 150 years ago.Lincoln had tragedy and challenges early in life. When he was nine, his mother died. When his father remarried, the new blended family of eight lived in a log cabin. As a youth, Lincoln became very close to his stepmother, a tender and strong relationship that lasted until her death years later. Teased as a young man because he was physically awkward, Lincoln dealt with the hardship of peer ridicule by telling jokes. His sense of humor became one of his greatest character traits.He developed a remarkable sense of empathy. Lincoln's distinct ability to read people and committed sense of compassion was evident in the many pardons he issued. Over the years, he honed his ability to motivate people through honest companionship and by conveying a sense of mutual respect. He was a man of honesty and integrity. He maintained that integrity must be sincereĆ¢??we are judged by our words, actions and deeds more than by what we say. All these exemplary personal qualities earned him respect and love as a leader. Lincoln-esque qualities of compassion and forgiveness often seem to be in great deficit today. I can't imagine the turmoil and hateful, vengeful feelings that permeated our nation in the midst of the civil war, especially in the minds of leaders, forced to defend one side against another. Still, in a letter about re-admitting the State of Louisiana to the Union in 1862, Lincoln asserted that "I shall do nothing in malice. What I deal with is too vast for malicious dealing."He believed that our Constitution created a system of government that aimed to elevate, not degrade humanity. Dictatorship and coercive behavior violated Lincoln's sense of common decency. He believed in the Golden RuleĆ¢??treat others how you would have them treat you.Lincoln called our nation to respond to new challenges in a changing world with innovation and creativity. In his annual message to Congress in December of 1862, Lincoln asserted, "Still the question recurs, 'Can we do better?' The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew." The exhortation was as strong a call to action then as it is today. It's fitting to end with Horace Greeley's words about his great contemporary. Greeley was a newspaper magnate and sometimes, a critic of Lincoln."He was not born a king of men...but a child of the common people, who made himself a great persuader, therefore a leader, by dint of firm resolve, patient effort, and dogged perseverance. He slowly won his way to eminence and fame by the work that lay next to him...doing it as well as he could, and learning by his failure, when failure was encountered, how to do it better...He was open to all impressions and influences, and gladly profited by the teachings of events and circumstances, no matter how adverse or unwelcome. There was probably no year of his life when he was not a wiser, cooler, and better man than he had been the year preceding."Abraham Lincoln's life and character will lead us to success and help us make our communities, state and nation a better place today and for our families.