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Gerald R. Ford, Blizzard Lines & The "S" Word In Leadership

I. . . have searched my own conscience with special diligence to determine the right thing for me to do. . .
Gerald R. Ford, Blizzard Lines & The "S" Word In Leadership

These words by Parker Palmer have shaped me, and many law students who came through my class:

“There was a time when farmers on the Great Plains, at the first sign of a blizzard, would run a rope from the back door out to the barn.  They all knew stories of people who had wandered off and been frozen to death, having lost sight of home in a whiteout while still in their own backyards.”

“Today we live in a blizzard of another sort. It swirls around us as economic injustice, ecological ruin, physical and spiritual violence, and their inevitable outcome, war.  It swirls around us as fear and frenzy, greed and deceit, and indifference to the suffering of others. We all know stories of people who have wandered off . . . and been separated from their own souls, losing their moral bearings. . . They make headlines because they take so many innocents down with them.”

Parker J. Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness

The most content people I know, the people who make the word a better place to be for others, have one trait in common:  They have fashioned a strong blizzard line which guides them through the swirling fray of fear, self-interest, indifference born of separation and inertia caused by the crushing demand of the day-to-day tasks of life. These blizzard-line-holding people include janitors, wealthy executives, administrative assistants, lawyers, baristas, brilliant scholars, and, thankfully, next door neighbors, among many others.

Their blizzard lines vary widely.  No two are alike.  But they all reflect a humility about their own capabilities and a belief in values for the ages, not expediency for the situation.  These wise people quietly grasp their blizzard lines, often engaging in deep contemplation and painful self-examination to keep a firm hold on their line.

In his speech explaining his pardon of President Nixon, President Gerald R. Ford said:

I have promised to uphold the Constitution, to do what is right as God gives me to see the right, and to do the very best that I can for America.

I have asked your help and your prayers, not only when I became President but many times since. The Constitution is the supreme law of our land and it governs our actions as citizens. Only the laws of God, which govern our consciences, are superior to it.

As we are a nation under God, so I am sworn to uphold our laws with the help of God.

And I have sought such guidance and searched my own conscience with special diligence to determine the right thing for me to do with respect to my predecessor in this place, Richard Nixon, and his loyal wife and family. [1]

Many were furious with President Ford for pardoning President Nixon.  And President Ford lost the next presidential election to President Carter in large part because of it.  The political party he loved lost the White House – a big defeat for him personally and for an organization he valued greatly. But in reading these words – “. . .to do what is right as God gives me to see the right” – is there any doubt that his decision was borne of something far beyond his own thoughts, feelings, desires and needs?

How many of our political leaders would risk their party losing the White House to do something that was the morally right thing to do?  How many of our political leaders consult God - or their equivalent of God - and "search their own conscience with special diligence?"   We are seeing a handful of leaders from both parties do just this.  And they are making a lot of people unhappy by doing so.

Yet, every leader, whether in business, government, commerce, the home, on the internet or on the little league field, operates by values.   The key questions are:  1) What are the leader’s values; 2) Who are the intended beneficiaries of their actions; and 3) How deeply does the leader recognize the values driving their behavior and the impact their actions have on those who are NOT intended beneficiaries of their actions?

Most of us can spot the leaders and influencers who have become separated from their own souls.  Or, perhaps more accurately, we are very good at spotting the lost leaders of tribes other than our own.

What would our world look like if our leaders – and our influencers – had blizzard lines reflecting humility, values for the ages - and not expediency for the situation?

If you look closely, everywhere, you can find leaders who are firmly grasping blizzard lines.  Their voices are quiet – hard to be heard in the blizzard of fear and outrage that envelops our public civil discourse.  They don’t generate sound bites because they know life is complex, there are many competing interests and nuance is important.

They are acting from humility, not certainty.  They care about people and improving the world, not just power and profit.

There are not enough of them.

Blizzard lines (dare we use the term “spirituality?”) are a component of ethical wisdom and wellness.  And leadership.


[[1] https://voicesofdemocracy.umd.edu/gerald-ford-remarks-on-signing-a-proclamation-granting-pardon-to-richard-nixon-speech-text/

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