Character as a qualification for public office

Opinion: Columns

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By Tom Holmes

We have another election coming up on April 2, for mayor and the other four commissioners among other offices and boards.  

All of the candidates will be proposing their plans to get the village out of the red and that's important, but one thing I'll also be looking for in the candidates is character. The many eulogies for George H.W. Bush, the contrast between 41's and 45's styles and the tone of the campaign to keep or reject video gambling here in town have made me conscious of how important values, temperament and character are to me.

Two years ago, in the March 2016 issue of Psychology Today, Dr. Ryne Sherman did a values profile of Donald Trump. It portrays the kind of character I do not want in my community leaders.

"When considering Mr. Trump's values profile in summary, we see a clear driver for status. He wants to win, be in charge, be famous, and create a legacy for himself. Combined with his penchant for making money, Mr. Trump has all the markings of an Enterprising (or Entrepreneurial) individual. . . . When we combine this with Mr. Trump's low Altruism and high Tradition, the result is an individual who is—quite frankly—interested in dominance. Mr. Trump likes to be in charge of others, wants everyone to know he is charge, has little sympathy for those who are unsuccessful, and prefers to maintain the current social hierarchy."

If you are with me thus far, the next question is, "Which set of values?"

So, I searched my memory for a set of values I would want our future mayor and commissioners to be models of, and I could not find any list better than what I learned over 50 years ago in the Boy Scout Law.

A Scout is:

TRUSTWORTHY. Tell the truth and keep promises. People can depend on you.

LOYAL. Show that you care about your family, friends, Scout leaders, school, and country.

HELPFUL. Volunteer to help others without expecting a reward.

FRIENDLY. Be a friend to everyone even people who are very different from you

COURTEOUS. Be polite to everyone and always use good manners.

KIND. Treat others as you want to be treated.                                               

OBEDIENT. Follow the rules. Obey the laws of your community and country.                                                                       

CHEERFUL. Look for the bright side of life. 

THRIFTY. Work to pay your own way. Use natural resources wisely.

BRAVE. Face difficult situations even when you feel afraid. Do what you think is right.

CLEAN. Keep your body and mind fit . REVERENT. Be reverent toward God. Be faithful in your religious duties. Respect the beliefs of others.

Whether you liked 41's policies or not, everyone agrees that he had character. He would get a high score on a Boy Scout Law achievement test. Whether you like 45's policies or not, almost everyone agrees that character is one thing he is lacking.  

Way back in 1923 Martin Buber published a book titled "I and Thou," in which he argued that we can treat other people as an "it" or as a "thou," as an object to be used or as a person with whom you can have a respectful relationship. President Trump's leadership style is often called "transactional," i.e. people are objects to be used for your own purposes.

The Boy Scout Law, it seems to me, holds up a standard of behavior which calls for us to engage with other people—and that includes even political opponents—as "thous" to be treated with respect and dignity.

I intend to vote for candidates which exhibit character as well as competence. It's not either/or. In these polarized times, it has to be both/and.  

Please don't read this as a judgment on those presently in office here in town. As far as I know, none of them colluded with the Russians or cheated on their income tax.

This about the future. This is about what I'm looking for in the candidates or will be running for office.

What I'm looking for is office holders who are able to articulate a moral vision for our community as well as being competent in running it.  

In other words, I want our elected officials to follow the lead of our kids in middle school who value empathy, community service, inter-cultural understanding and trusting relationships. I want leaders who openly and intentionally hold those values up as expectations for all of us.

Again, I'm not saying that our current elected officials don't hold those values. What I'm saying is that I want leaders who don't keep their lights hidden under a basket but openly lead our village according to the values our kids are learning in school and in their Scout troops.

It's the role John Kennedy played when he inspired 230,000 Americans to serve in the Peace Corps over the years when he declared, "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country."

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