Reflections on Life & Leadership: Republicans, Democrats, and the Price of Conviction

This is not a political commentary. Please don’t mistake any of these words for a particular political position or ideology. Rather, in examining the conduct our elected officials (notice the absence of the word “leadership”) in Washington as they address the “fiscal cliff,” it would seem there are lessons for everyone regarding our notions of integrity and the exercising of conviction. Not the least of which is some attempt at defining integrity.

Often, it seems, integrity is in the “eye of the beholder.” Unsophisticated wine drinkers (like me) have been heard to say, “I don’t know much about wine. But I know what I like.” Such a definition of integrity is more than a little frightening. It leaves us subject to our own whims of appetite. It may work for selecting a wine to accompany dinner, but it is a poor basis for leadership. Political expediency and getting re-elected often seem to be at the heart of what passes for integrity in Washington today. Or is it? Could it be that the rancor and divisiveness we hear from Washington today is simply a part of the democratic process? Sometimes.

Could it be those elected officials are simply holding true to what their constituency elected them to do? Sometimes. And isn’t that integrity? Not really.On some level it would seem being faithful to those who voted for you is a good thing. Yet mustn’t there be something more to integrity in a leader? Aren’t there times when leadership and integrity might cost us something if it is genuine leadership? It seems that integrity and conviction must include a calling to a “greater good” on occasion, if not frequently. Exercising such conviction may cost us something. But like a parent willing to endure the whining child to protect him from dangerous behavior, genuine leaders will stand firm.

Leadership calls us to stand firm for principles far higher than profit, promotion, or an easy path. A wise friend once told me, “more often than not, the hard path is the right path.” There is great truth in this adage. Exercising this type of conviction may, in the short run, cost one a job, promotion, profit, or social acceptance, even re-election. Leaders must let this notion of the “hard path” become part of their definition of integrity and the exercising of conviction. They must also ask themselves the question “What might I be wrong about?” if they are to avoid hubris and uncivil conduct. In doing so, businesses, families, can become a light to their communities calling us to principle conduct that accepts varying viewpoints. In governing a nation though the process will be filled with “spirited debate” one hopes it leads down a path of mutual respect in which leaders will accept and acknowledge our differences rather than attempting to profit from them.

Keep the faith.