A few thoughts on humility and arrogance, on history and current day:
I recently discovered iTunesU and have just finished listening to an excellent lecture series out of Yale University by Dr. Joanne Freeman on the American Revolution. While I was listening through, I came across one of the lectures that specifically spoke on George Washington. I've always respected George Washington, as I'm sure many Americans do, but this particular lecture really started the wheels turning. There are a few cliches that come to mind when most people think about Washington. He was the first president, had wooden teeth, and chopped down a cherry tree as a kid. (By the way, if you're a historical nerd like I am and want to see some historical facts about the latter two, check them out here.)
I will not go into the great details, but the conversation was regarding Washington's attributes beyond the formal education of the time and John Adams' statements that he looked the part of a great leader. I started thinking, my mind adding into the lecture what I know of Washington beyond what was spoken as well as the new tidbits I was able to pick up from her talk.
Dr. Freeman described Washington as an imposing figure, but one that displayed a modest demeanor, not grasping for power. She noted detail on how that was to his advantage as Americans of the time had been put off (to say the least) by the abuse of power out of England. It was interesting, because I have heard historians over the years pick Washington apart, trying to find the flaws and the hidden meanings in what he did throughout his service to this nation, and while she weighed his actions back and forth, there was a general understanding from her that while he may have had certain goals in mind, he had a humbleness about him, a humility that was what this nation needed to begin well. He was confident, but not haughty.
He could have, as many people throughout history have, allowed himself to develop a lust for power, but instead chose to take a different path. Dr Freeman noted, as an example, that when the war was over and the Americans were victorious, that the people simply assumed that Washington - backed by an army loyal to him - would ascend to power. Instead he bowed out gracefully and went home. Simple as that. There was no grasping for control, no talk of how he and he alone could make the country work. He just went home.
Think on this a moment. Washington never assumed. He never assumed that he would be chosen to lead the army (and when he was he turned down their offer of payment for his service), and he never assumed that he would be made the first president of the United States. I thought about this as I was driving home from work the day that I heard this particular lecture. Dr Freeman was spot on. His modest demeanor was exactly what this country needed.
It still is.
Fast forward to the 21st century. I'd like to compare the first president this great nation had and the current. For all the humility, modesty, and care that George Washington showed towards the people - people that he was willing to lay down his life for - Barack Obama shows that much arrogance, conceit, and - if we are honest just for a moment - disdain for the values that the Founding Fathers helped to cement into our beginnings. He cares little for the founding documents, for our allies, or for any opinion that may contradict his own.
One does not have to take hold of his every word to notice how often the current president refers to himself or may even throw himself into a terrible situation, not to offer help, but to instead bring the focus back around to himself. Though, I do find it interesting that when things go wrong he seems very adamant that it must be someone else's fault. He gives many pretty speeches that have little fact to back them up - just take a moment to listen to the State of the Union address from a few weeks ago - and is so often found absent from his duties in order to play a few rounds of golf or go on a vacation. It does make me wonder just how many vacations George Washington took on the taxpayers' dime.
I find myself thinking on these matters as they come about, and they often do. We do live in a different world than our Founders did - one that I often wonder if they might recognize - but that does not mean that we should forget what those that came before us knew. Many lives have been ended and much blood has been spilt to protect this great nation and it's unique people. I think we do ourselves a great disservice to brush aside what they have given to us for nothing more than a few pretty, shallow words.