Last week, I had the honor and privilege of meeting the President of the United States of America, Barack H. Obama. I stood in a single file line in the midst of secret service agents and facilitators of the event awaiting my turn to approach, shake hands, and take a photo with our President.
When my turn came, I walked up, anxious and star struck, despite being fairly surefooted and confident in similar situations in my past. I shook his hand and the thing that caught my attention immediately were the eyes of this man. There was certainly his stature, aura, and million dollar smile. Yet, it was his eyes that I will always remember most as I introduced myself and spoke with him for a short while.
His eyes pierced me with a level of intensity, concentration, and sincerity that I had never experienced before. For that flash of time, he was dedicated to our conversation and intent upon letting me know that I had his undivided attention. His eyes said in no uncertain terms that he was caring, loving, concerned, genuine, and yes brilliant.
Now, I must tell you that my friend and coworker, who ultimately made the choice to give me his photo-op, is a great guy and good friend. He is white and a self-proclaimed “conservative.” We genuinely agree that our commonalities (love for family, country, a belief in doing what is right, just, and judging people as individuals-to name a few) far outweigh our differences.
He does not care for our President’s politics. We regularly have wonderful and heartfelt discussions about our positions and beliefs, which have added great depth to our friendship and mutual respect. He is often the countervailing voice for me that we all need to hear, which encourages us to try to see more clearly.
I was watching television recently and saw an interview that recounted a scene that unfolded during the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan. It was told by Nancy Reagan. She spoke of her husband clinging to life when he received a visit from Tip O’Neil, then Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives. According to Mrs. Reagan, the Speaker of the House removed his shoes and entered the hospital room of President Reagan. He approached the President’s bedside, knelt to his knees, and began to pray. When he finished, he stood up, kissed President Reagan and said “I love you Mr. President.” In response, on his possible death-bed, the President replied “I love you to Mr. Speaker.”
These men were bitter political rivals, the leaders of their respective parties, with polarizing perspectives on how the government of America should be conducted. Yet, their history as politicians reflects a willingness to develop consensus and put their extreme partisan viewpoints into focus to strive for the betterment of all America.
Our President’s eyes were clear. They spoke of brilliance and open-mindedness to do what is best for America. I suspect that President Reagan and Speaker O’Neil always looked each other in the eye. In my opinion, it is likely that such a ritual was at the heart of their friendship and an integral aspect of their encounter at the hospital. I don’t know if our current speaker sees what was readily apparent to me in the President’s eyes. If he does, then I wish I knew why it has not resulted in the kind of political accomplishment that occurred between President Reagan and Speaker O’Neil.
I know that it is nowhere near as simple as it is in our workplace, but my coworker and I do it all the time; it is how we reach consensus on most things despite our divergent political views.
There is so much to be said about “the eyes of a man.”
Read, learn, and share…….Have a Family Meeting!
C. Randolph Keller
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