When our 43rd president spoke at the interfaith memorial service in Dallas on July 12, he expressed a powerful truth:
Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions.
I abide by a similar notion—life would be far more pleasant if families, friends and colleagues chose to define and talk about us based on our best moments instead of those we undoubtedly wish never occurred.
Over a lifetime, painful and embarrassing experiences stack up for everyone. How people acknowledge or disavow that reality is always interesting. I’m acutely aware of mine and would suffocate under the weight of humiliation if they were my sole focus. Thankfully, they are scattered among weeks, months and years bursting with everyday events and remarkable occasions that are infinitely more worthy of remembering.
Hence my hard time with those who choose to keep everyone’s most unpleasant incidents top of mind, not only singling them out as the default material for conversation but holding on to them as the irreversible benchmarks to forever measure character or assess intentions.
We do not elevate ourselves by knocking others down. Millions of us in full knowledge of our imperfections offer up many times more positive and colorful anecdotes with which to be judged.
I find it overwhelming that George Bush shared these remarks at this difficult juncture in our country’s history. I’m not one if his fans, but I’ll never forget his observation earlier this week. Neither am I naÏve, still I relish those words, and I’ll never be able to think about him again without recalling them.
There were many profound moments during that sad service. President Obama reminded us:
As we get older, we learn we don’t always have control of things, not even a president does. But we do have control over how we respond to the world. We do have control over how we treat one another.
Two US presidents from rival parties came together in Dallas despite the deep political schisms wrenching our country apart. Even with their many differences, together they appealed to the greater good. The recognition that we are all imperfect is a powerful first step in helping us do better at home and in the world, if we make the conscious decision to choose respect.
Is that too much to ask?