President’s Day, for me, is not only a celebration of the presidents who served our nation in the past, but a reminder about the kind of leadership we aspire to create in our land. But where will that leadership emerge from today?
In a book I am completing on conversations that I held with Americans over the past 15 years on their views toward politics and hope, the answer is clear - people don’t necessarily expect this new leadership to come from the likely cast of characters: political leaders, the news media and corporate America.
Instead, people have told me that individual Americans must now step forward if we are to redeem hope in politics and public life. Indeed, they are looking to “everyday heroes” from all sectors to reshape the public landscape. Such individuals do not undertake superhuman tasks, but rather find ways to help others, persevere in their endeavors, and act with integrity – even though conditions often mitigate taking such a path.
Just last week I was the luncheon speaker for the Seattle Rotary, the second largest Rotary in the world. When I looked out over the 600 people assembled there, I told them that anyone who doubts the civic potential of America should stand before them as I did. It was an awesome sight.
There, I heard Bob Wiley III talk about “Learning for Life", a program that teaches kids about handling the complexities of today's society and works to enhance their self-confidence, motivation, and self-worth. I also met Special Agent Wallace H. Shields of the Seattle Field Office, U.S. Secret Service, who is undertaking tremendous work with youth throughout the community.
I also reconnected with John Hamer, founder of the Washington News Council, who is seeking to improve the standards of the news media through the active engagement of local citizens and journalists. I highlighted news councils in an issue book for the National Issues Forums I once wrote, News Media and Society: How to Restore the Public Trust. The work that John is doing exhibits the kinds of everyday-hero attributes that people are seeking in their leaders.
During this week each year I am always reminded of my favorite president, Abraham Lincoln – a man who held steady to guide the nation, and to persevere and sustain an enduring faith in people during some of our darkest days. But I am reminded as well of the need, today, for each of us to stand up as everyday heroes, like my friends in Seattle, and like so many other people across America.
This week, for President’s Day, let us remind ourselves of our own potential to lead.