Any man can say things that are true of Abraham Lincoln, but no man can say anything that is new of Abraham Lincoln
— Frederick Douglass
I’ve been recently listening to the Team of Rivals, and interviews of Doris Kearns Goodwin about Lincoln (besides snooping around on Biography.com for more about the man). Like millions of others, I find myself mesmerized by the almost-mythical stature Lincoln commands in history.
There is a lot that can be said about him, but a quality that intrigued me most, perhaps because of its absence in the political scene of today, is Lincoln’s uncanny knack to be able to oppose his political foes with respect, without questioning their intent. Even as he opposed slavery, Lincoln could empathize with folks on the other side. Instead of demonizing them, he said:
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.
By doing so, Lincoln is able to oppose the issue and let others ‘come to him’, instead of adding to flames of bitterness. It is not only a sign of good character, but also a smart political strategy.
I wonder how such attitude would transform the political debate today, especially in India. I wonder if Manish Tiwari could speak a sentence without demonizing everyone else on the other side of the table. It is not just about being polite, rather more importantly, it is about being smart and strategic.
In the midst of these thoughts, I am reminded of Gandhi, who called Jinnah his brother. I am reminded of Barack Obama, who called McCain a patriot and hero, while opposing him in an election. These qualities are not wholly absent, but rare, perhaps for a reason…
On the landscapes of history, only a thin horizon separates the skies of statesmanship from the seas of politics. Perhaps it is this essence of Lincoln and Gandhi, a sense of balance that calls you to rise to the highest levels of emotional strength while keeping your feet grounded in reality.