When I first heard the term “statesman,” I was not exactly sure about how the title was being used. I have since learned the term is gender neutral and can be a man or a woman who puts the public good and service above partisanship. You may notice throughout this article that I am being intentional in not mentioning political party, race, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality. Why? Because all of the virtues mentioned here can be embraced by us all. The 19th century author, abolitionist James Freeman Clarke once wrote: “A politician . . . thinks of the next election; while the statesman thinks of the next generation.” This speaks to a person seeing beyond themselves and having a genuine interest in the bigger picture – “public service.”
Are there virtues of statesmen worthy of highlighting? Research first led me to the Cambridge Dictionary, which defines the term as “a politician or government official who is respected and experienced and represents public interests.” I continued digging and found a reference to the late J. Rufus Fears, Ph.D., a distinguished scholar of history at the University of Oklahoma and a revered lecturer at The Great Courses teaching company. According to a 2012 blog by Brett McKay, the founder of The Art of Manliness website (and a former student of Fears), and his wife, Kate, Professor Fears taught that “a statesman is a free leader of a free people and must possess four essential qualities.” These qualities include principles, a moral compass, a vision, and an ability to build a consensus; they are critical elements of a statesman’s character, and they provide a firm foundation for one to display leadership with integrity, especially during challenging times. This does not imply perfection, but rather a set of core virtues that can help one to stay grounded. Let’s review these virtues.
Principles are a set of internal rules that ground our decisions. It is subjective positioning that involves integrity, honesty, and how we see fairness. It is important to note that principles are developed over time. We have all heard the expression, “What do you stand for?” This is a call to understand someone’s principles. This is how we can see maturity when a person can recognize and articulate what is important to them and why.
Morality is a behavioral standard that can be influenced by experiences and religious affiliation. It is a code of conduct that is put forth and accepted by any group or individual. It is a guide that influences how we determine what we believe to be good versus bad.
Vision is an embodiment of purpose and requires good communication skills. It can provide the opportunity for a leader to project an overall direction. A vision expressed should be aspirational, including the objectives that are sought. An experienced leader will use this virtue to motivate people.
Consensus refers to the ability to bring a group of people together with diverse opinions as they skillfully manage to get everyone on the same page. This requires maturity, empathy, skill and experience, and involves more than one person.
Professor Fears’s key qualities provide an effective backdrop for how we can think critically about political leaders. We first need to reflect on and understand the virtues that are important to us. It is a personal reflection with no judgments. It will always be expected that a diverse community will have diverse thoughts and opinions. We can choose to focus on our commonalities when we need to work together. Public service is a privilege and a commitment to serve beyond one’s self interest. As election time moves closer, let’s get a better understanding of what is important to us and our community. Let’s be willing to listen to each other respectfully. Let’s go into conversations having a sense of our own core virtues so we can be impactful.
A frequent contributor to the Poughkeepsie Journal, Pawling resident Obed Figueroa is the
author of Marcus Learns About the Different Types of Doctors, soon to be published by Austin
Macauley Publishers. He is also a published researcher and a graduate (MA) of Stony Brook University.