With the ugly federal election campaign over, perhaps Canada can return to its natural state as the capital of niceness. It was dismaying to watch the viciousness souring American politics sweep north during the blessedly short campaign. Clearly, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau secured a victory – but not quite vindication – and will govern with a weakened hand, a tougher coalition and a tarnished reputation.
Democratic leadership, however, is dynamic, especially in our ahistorical age that thinks “history” means last week’s most forwarded YouTube video of babies drooling. If Trudeau had the unfortunate experience of watching his popularity sag, he now has an opportunity to overcome the challenges and redefine himself in the public eye.
Allow me to offer some tragically unhip, old-fashioned advice to Canada’s modern, trendy prime minister: read your Bible and say some prayers.
Read your Bible! Read the famous diatribe in the Book of Samuel when the Children of Israel request a king. Note that even in pre-democratic times, a good ruler avoided corruption, respected the people and understood the limits of power, not just the power of power.
Look at King David’s roller-coaster career – whenever he turned arrogant, his fortunes turned downward. Study King Solomon’s leadership. Beyond his wisdom, Solomon was a big thinker and a big doer. The man who built the Holy Temple understood how to leave a lasting legacy – he wouldn’t be satisfied with merely decriminalizing marijuana (or frankincense and myrrh). Solomon appreciated leadership as a gift, a chance to improve people’s lives by recruiting them to do great things by working together.
Yes, it’s hokey, but don’t you wish there was a Premier’s Prayer? No, not to have even more politicians believing they have some direct pipeline to the Almighty, but to remind them that there are some forces even greater than they think they are.
So beyond just giving speeches and making promises, some prayers are in order. Start with a thanksgiving prayer, saluting our forebears, both personal ancestors and citizens from previous generations, who sacrificed far more than most of us have so that we could be born into a country flourishing with freedom, overflowing with prosperity – especially when compared to most other countries in the world or earlier times.
Continue the gratitude gala with some hallelujahs, identifying all that’s good in the country and our lives, even if the politician’s main job involves solving the remaining problems. The gap between how well most of us live and how little we appreciate it is reflected in our culture of crankiness. Yes, complain about what’s wrong, but remember all that’s right.
Finally, some supplications never hurt anyone. Pleas for help can be signs of strength, not weakness, recognizing that we are stronger together, that no one has all the answers, that we cannot just learn from one another, but lift up one another.
Canadian prime ministers often lack the kind of poetry such sacred reading and entreating evokes. But great leaders aren’t janitors, police officers or sanitation engineers. Great leaders are poets, teachers, artists, adding a touch of romance to the everyday, some colour to the black-and-white problems we all face, a spring in the collective step. Of course, they also must manage personality conflicts, ideological differences, unexpected headaches, underlying problems and clashing expectations.
But pausing amid the rush, rush, rush of everyday demands to read a bit, contemplate a lot and pray every now and then never hurt anyone. In fact, at the end of the day, no great leader ever succeeded simply by jumping from problem to problem. Greatness comes from catching a breath, looking ahead and involving all of us in the great opportunities our freedom and prosperity give us – and few others on the planet.
And let us say, “Amen.”