What we re­ally need in a leader for our na­tion

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION - Kathryn Lopez Colum­nist

“Now that we’ll have a pres­i­dent who has said, ‘I don’t have he­roes,’ I sup­pose we must all some­how step up and be­come he­roes for one an­other,” writer Wendy Shalit tweeted the day af­ter the elec­tion. The mother of three de­scribes her­self as an “evan­ge­list for ro­man­tic hope and the pos­si­bil­ity of in­no­cence.”

In a re­cent con­ver­sa­tion, Shalit spoke of a man named Ger­shon Burd, a fa­ther of five who had died in an ac­ci­dent in 2013 and led a “se­cret life.” Peo­ple knew he was a good guy, but they had no idea, re­ally — even his fam­ily. For him­self, he would buy used shoes and suits. For others, he would do any­thing, it turned out. He was gra­tu­itously gen­er­ous.

In a 2014 reis­sue of her 1999 book, “A Re­turn to Mod­esty,” Shalit wrote of him: “A sta­tionery store owner in the Old City of Jerusalem gave out free he­lium bal­loons to all chil­dren on their birthdays ... only be­cause Ger­shon qui­etly slipped into the store ev­ery month and paid for the bal­loons. He also paid for plane tick­ets home, so that other peo­ple could visit their sick par­ents.” Shalit asked: “(I)s there any­thing more ex­tra­or­di­nary than a life lived with such sub­lime mod­esty?”

When I picked up “A Re­turn to Mod­esty” again, I read this: “The wheel of ma­tu­rity is grasped when a per­son hum­bles him­self to iden­tify with others and stretches him­self to be­come a more giv­ing per­son.”

That’s a mes­sage that some of the peo­ple protest­ing Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion need to hear. I didn’t vote for the man, and I have sim­i­lar feel­ings as Shalit’s about what it says about us that we will have a first lady who de­scribed her hus­band’s re­pul­sive lan­guage about women — which may or may not have re­flected the re­al­ity of his ap­proach to sex­ual con­quests — as male “locker room talk.”

But the poor choices this elec­tion year were not the fault of the can­di­dates but a re­flec­tion of our­selves and our pol­i­tics. I broke open my copy of Wil­liam Ben­nett’s “The Book of Virtues” — which Shalit also tweeted about in the wake of the elec­tion — and no­ticed that the first virtue is self-dis­ci­pline. It in­cludes some verse from an un­known au­thor on learn­ing how to con­duct con­ver­sa­tions: “If you your lips would keep from slips,/Five things ob­serve with care:/Of whom you speak, to whom you speak,/ And how and when and where.

Through­out the cam­paign, peo­ple asked me why Trump’s reck­less­ness in speech and ac­tion mat­ter. I think the quotes above an­swer that ques­tion. But again, he’s about to be pres­i­dent, and the big­ger is­sue is our­selves. What do we value, what do we want to value, who are we and who do we want to be? In the Chris­tian tra­di­tion, there’s a call to be saints, and it is uni­ver­sal. We don’t need a saint as pres­i­dent, but we do need one who has he­roes other than him­self, one who wants to be a hero. That’ll take every­one pitch­ing in and nur­tur­ing virtues like mod­esty and hu­mil­ity, like Ger­shon Burd or so many others whose names will never be well known have done. They’re lives to cel­e­brate and em­u­late.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is se­nior fel­low at the Na­tional Re­view In­sti­tute, edi­tor-at-large of Na­tional Re­view On­line and found­ing di­rec­tor of Catholic Voices USA. She can be con­tacted at klopez@ na­tion­al­re­view.com.

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