* Find my original Facebook post here
** Illustration by Sara El-Yafi
One of my favorite parts of the movie Lincoln is when Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant goes to meet the leaders of the Confederate States to hand them back their peace proposal on behalf of the President, with scribbled notes all over the document.
Lieutenant General Grant says, “I suggest you work some changes to your proposal before you give it to the President. […] It says “securing peace for our two countries” and it goes on like that!”
The Vice President of the Confederate States, Alexander Stephens, is confused, “I don’t know what you-”
Grant replies, “There’s just one country. You and I, we’re citizens of that country.”
Despite the animosity between the two clans and their staunch differences in values and behavior, even before the war had ended, Lincoln’s negotiating team considered their Southern adversaries to be as American as they were, and therefore as equal as they were… And this consideration became the law: Lincoln’s constitutional amendment made all Americans irrevocably equal before the law, blacks and whites, but also former enemies… So I thought about my country and about how after dozens of wars, we still don’t consider people of the “other faction” to be Lebanese similar to us, nor deserving to be equal to us, and so, we’ve never felt united at all… Then I realized perhaps it’s because we’ve never had a leader like Lincoln… or empowered those who showed promise of being a Lincoln.
Today, February 12, is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. He turns 204. And as a tribute to his memory, I decided to highlight five principles that marked this man’s undisputed greatness (Lincoln is considered to be the greatest American president of all time consistently ranking first in every single poll), in hope that it could be an insight on how to judge our public figures, or how to spot our Lebanese Lincoln:
1. He had a public policy of compassion
Historians describe Lincoln as a man who was “highly attuned to the feelings of others.” His main fight was that of the compassionate bid to end the plight of the African-American community subdued to the atrocities of slavery, but also of the bid to forge a solid America and mend relations between “enemies”, a word he refused to use. His wife Mary Todd Lincoln once said of Washington, “This city is full of enemies,” Lincoln replied, “Enemies? Never again must we repeat that word” (as told in the book Lincoln As I Knew Him: Gossip, Tributes, and Revelations from His Best Friends and Worst Enemies.)
-> The Lebanese Lincoln should be compassionate and consider nobody an enemy.
2. He learned not to take things personally and refrained from making personal attacks
He took his ego out of public matters; a task that required self-discipline on behalf of his hot temper. When consumed by anger, he would write furious letters to his critics, but never dispatch them. Instead, he would gracefully rebuff the numerous attacks slung at him by critics, even from within his inner circle. The Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, had once rejected an order of the president, and called the president a “damn fool.” “He called me a damn fool?” Lincoln asked. “Yes! Not once, sir, but twice!” replied the agitated congressman who gave him the news. “Well, Stanton speaks what is on his mind, and he is usually right about what he speaks, so if he called me a damn fool, I must be a damn fool. I will go to him now and find out why.”
-> The Lebanese Lincoln will not make personal attacks, or replace public interest with self interest.
3. He knew that success is achieved through the discipline of remaining positive
If like Lincoln you live on Earth, then you will be met by challenges, and personal assaults, and critics, and hurt, and disappointments, and heartache that may induce you to cave in to the dark side and fail at making the world a better place, but Lincoln believed that we can only overcome adversity if we can learn to instill in ourselves the discipline of remaining positive and draw on, in Lincoln’s words, “the better angels of our nature” to advance causes much nobler than that of our personal gain.
-> The Lebanese Lincoln will be disciplined and does not lead with pessimism or cynicism. He/she will only draw on optimism to inspire his/her people to become more like their “inner angels” for higher causes.
4. He had a self-effacing sense of humor
If Lincoln had to ridicule someone, it would mostly be directed at his own self. During one of the presidential debates, Stephen Douglas, the Presidential Democratic Party nominee of the 1860 elections who lost to Lincoln, called Lincoln two-faced, Lincoln responded, “I leave it to my audience. If I had another face, why would I be wearing this one?” (This is from Presidential Anecdotes.)
-> The Lebanese Lincoln likes Dave Chappelle.
5. He forgave his enemies
Lincoln never demonized his enemies, not to himself, not to his people. He sought to understand their motives, and led his country to do the same. He had once explained about Southerners: “They are just what we would be in their situation. If slavery did not now exist amongst them, they would not introduce it. If it did now exist amongst us, we should not instantly give it up.” (As recorded in Lincoln-Douglas Debates.)
-> The Lebanese Lincoln will forgive those who hurt the nation, and teach our contending people to forgive one another in order to solidify our nation.
Here’s for putting out a conclusion:
Let it be known that Lincoln was not a man who often attended church, in fact, he was attacked, slandered and harassed by men perceived as noble and upright Christians, but he was a man of high principles. Lincoln unified his nation in a time where war, hatred and racism were claimed to be the word of God… Not only did he challenge the purported word of God, but he changed it forever by showing that there is no greater good than the vastness of the human soul, nobler, wider, and greater than any possible religion on Earth.
What would happen if we started putting in charge leaders who speak and practice the language of compassion even with those who may have hurt us in the past or may still be out to hurt us? What would happen if we set our egos on the side and really listened to our opponents’ position, no matter how contemptible their position may seem (I mean, what could be worse than vouching for slavery)? Apparently, the answer is: great history happens. It is not a coincidence that the greatest strides of humanity were always made at the hands of men and women who, like Lincoln, followed their ambitions with selflessness and forgiveness. The proof is that these men and women, consistently and undeniably, leave this world a better place, and even after 200 years of their passing, people still reminisce over their life, miss their presence and write posts in their honor on their birthdays.
Here’s to finding our own version of Lincoln; one man or woman who will lead and inspire us to engage in compassionate nationbuilding and civilization betterment for all.
And happy birthday, Mr. President.