Condoleezza Rice – “No Higher Honor”
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is up now. Her message is called “No Higher Honor.” Here is my summary.
How different is it to be in government than out of government? It is very different. Now, I get up in the morning, read the newspaper, and think “isn’t that interesting.” And then I go on to what I want to do, because I’m no longer responsible for what’s in the newspaper.
It is a challenging and difficult time right now. We’ve been through three really big shocks. The first of course was September 11. If you were in leadership at that time, your concept of security changed forever. Then there was the global economic shock. This brings a sense of economic insecurity. And now we’ve had a third, which we’ve come to call “the air of spring.”
“Anger and fear are terrible ways to make political reform.”
What we are seeing is the universality of freedom. No man, woman, or child, wants to live in tyranny. Everyone wants the basic rights that we enjoy here in America. The right to say what you think. The right to worship. The right to be free from the secret police at tonight.
Freedom is not the same as democracy. Democracy is the institutionalization of those freedoms. And with rights come responsibilities. That is what makes a democracy stable. And it is a hard road from freedom to democracy. We in America ought to be pretty patient with those who are making the journey. Even in America, it has taken time for freedom to become democracy for all.
It takes more than a constitution and rule of law. It requires an understanding that democracy cannot be the tyranny of the majority. The rights of the minorities must be protected. And we must understand that the strong cannot exploit the weak. And that is not just the work of government. Government cannot put into the heart of every citizen the understanding and belief that we have the responsibility that there should be no weak links, because democracy is only as strong as its weakest link.
The strong should not only not exploit the weak, but ought to strengthen the weak.
If the strong exploit the weak, a democracy will not be stable.
Underneath this principle is another: that every life is worthy.
In democracy there are no kings and queens. There are no permanent stations in life. No one is condemned forever to the state in which they are born. Every life is capable of greatness. And if this is so, we have an obligation as citizens of a democracy to make sure the opportunity is there.
As Christians, the meaning of every life being equal is even deeper, because we are not only equals before the law, but equals before God. Our Lord Jesus died for each and every one of us, no matter our station in life, no matter the circumstances of our birth, no matter the depth of our sin, our Lord Jesus Christ died for each and every one of us.
Delivering compassion is the work of those who believe every life is worthy.
With education it doesn’t matter where you’re coming from, it matters where you’re going.
If you are fortunate enough to lead in challenging times, it is important to recognize that there is so much opportunity. So how do you lead from the troubling times like we live in, to those that will be more prosperous and freer? And say when you leave this earth that you have helped leave things better off.
Leadership is not simply about people following you, but helping people to see their own leadership capacity.
We have an example here in Jesus himself. He led his disciples to become leaders of the church.
But you can’t lead if people don’t see in you the belief that the future can be better.
I’ve come to believe that the most essential character of the leader is irrepressible optimism. Nobody wants to follow a sourpuss or someone with a victim mentality. But how do you remain optimistic in difficult times? One of the most important sources of optimism is to keep perspective. When I was Secretary of State, people would often look around and things weren’t going great in the world, but I thought it must have seemed this way many other times. Imagine what it must have been like to lead after WWII, when the question wasn’t whether Eastern Europe would be communist, but whether Western Europe would be as well.
Today’s headlines and history’s judgment are rarely the same. If you are ultimately focused on todays headlines you will achieve nothing of lasting value.
Another key to perspective is to realize that after struggle comes victory. This is a central message to our faith. After Friday, there would be Sunday.
I can’t tell you how often I have had to remember that it is a privilege to struggle. To often you can fall in to thinking it is your own dedication that is the key. But when, as Lincoln says, you have no place to go but your knees, you are driven to a deeper peace. I was often driven to Romans 5:1-10. I can’t tell you how often I read that to remember that it is indeed a privilege to struggle, and that out of struggle can come victory.
Perhaps the greatest source of strength and optimism is to think about all those times that what seemed impossible seems inevitable in retrospect.
There was a time no one believed that so many would emerge in freedom and prosperity and dignity. How could Nelson Mandela have a vision not for a South Africa where those who are black would oppress the whites once they are in power, but of a multi-racial society? Or how could a little girl who grows up in segregated Alabama, where her parents couldn’t take her to a restaurant, grow up to become Secretary of State? You see, somehow, things that one day seemed impossible, seem inevitable in retrospect. That’s one of history’s little tricks.
But we are to be reminded today that those outcomes were not inevitable. They were the work of people who sacrificed sometimes everything for a principle. Those who led by belief and faith and put themselves on the line to make the world better. Who led from impossibility to inevitability because they never accepted the world as it is, but also worked for it as it should be. That is always the calling of leaders.
I am grateful to have served as a leader in challenging times, and I am very grateful for the prayers of so many who would come up to me and say “I’ve prayed for you.” And I am grateful for the faith of my father and my mother, which gave me a foundation from which to take on the challenges of leadership. I wish you the same, and know that together we can make the world be not what it is, but what it should be.