Charles Lewis: Our leaders could use a lesson in humility

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  • November 7, 2019

What does it mean when the only thing that matters is power? What does it mean that even in defeat it is impossible to summon up even a note of humility? 

I am thinking about the federal election that we just witnessed. I watched the votes come in. I listened to the TV panelists fill dead air with empty commentary. And then I watched the leaders once the results were known. 

Each had essentially been rebuked to one extent or another. I have seen peacocks more subtle when they fan out their plumage.

Justin Trudeau was fist-pumping and prancing even though his party had just been kicked in the rump. His percentage of the popular vote plummeted. His party lost 27 seats. The Liberals fell from majority rule to a minority government. 

Andrew Scheer seemed ecstatic, or as ecstatic as he ever seems. He gained 26 seats, edged the Liberals in popular vote, but he fell far short of his hope for a majority. 

Jagmeet Singh saw the NDP routed but he was glowing. And Elizabeth May of the Greens enjoyed the magnificent gains of her party: They now have three seats.

What all refused to do was acknowledge that Canadians could find no one worthy to lead our country. 

Trudeau and the rest of them should have toned down the theatrics, stopped preening for a moment, and acknowledged the reality that had just hit them like a moose in full rut. 

They might have said, minus the preening: “The voters are never wrong. They told us tonight that we have fallen far short of their expectations. We need to try to figure out why we cannot appeal to large swaths of the country.”

Then simply said we must do a lot better. And walk, not dance, off the stage.

All this reminded me of something I see more and more in the world of sports. Watch a basketball game and see the how many players, upon scoring a basket, will yell like a prehistoric monster having just bested its prey. I am not talking about a game-winning shot. The most common picture today of a basketball player is mouth open doing the primal scream.

In football I have seen players score touchdowns and then proceed to a choreographed dance with their teammates. All that would be fine if it were the winning touchdown in a championship game, but these displays even go on when the team that has scored is down by 30 points late in the fourth quarter with no chance of victory.

Let me step back for a moment. On a recent weekend I went to Mass and had lunch at St. Augustine’s Seminary. 

The priest’s homily was addressed to the young men soon to become deacons and priests. He said that the admissions board for the seminary always tries to find out the candidate’s strengths. Then he said something surprising. He wondered whether the board should also ask about weaknesses. 

We are all weak to some degree or another. And in that weakness, the priest said, is where Christ goes to make His home. 

Being a Catholic to me also means falling down and getting up. It means having the humility to confess transgressions and try again not to sin. It has to be that way because we are all sinners and we are all weak. And weakness makes us human.

At lunch some of us thought that the homily went way beyond priests to our society in general that sees weakness as a failure. It sees imperfections as a curse — something to be resented. Inner beauty always trumps outer beauty because we have become so superficial. 

Some of you may recall comedian Billy Crystal’s caricature of Fernando Lamas on Saturday Night Live years ago. He was the ultimate lounge lizard. His motto: “It’s not how you feel but how you look, and I look fabulous.” The best humour coincides with reality.

Our political leaders on that recent Monday night all looked fabulous. They kept what was on the inside a secret to make sure they exuded strength, even if it was hollow.

Though Christianity is not in fashion, I wish they could be reminded that Christ showed humility and weakness and won the greatest victory of all.

(Lewis is a Toronto writer and regular contributor to The Register.)

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