It was U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Adlai Stevenson who, upon Eleanor Roosevelt‘s 1962 death, called her a “First Lady of the World,” a reflection of her years as Chairman of the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women (1961-1962), delegate to the UN General Assembly(1946-1953), US First Lady (1933-1945), and gubernatorial First Lady (1929-1933).
I’m no UN Ambassador but as one who (according to one of her former Chiefs of Staff) conducted more interviews with Hillary Clinton as First Lady, I feel confident in saying that she’s become the new First Lady of the World.
From 1992 to 2001, in public forums or her private residence, in person or by phone, on- and off-the-record, I conducted interviews with her on a wide range of public issues, yet always sought to have her reflect on how what she saw and did evolved her perceptions of the world at large. During her tenure as U.S. Senator, I continued to meet with her privately and briefly on occasion in her office, and since then have followed her every word and deed.
For thirty-two years she has worked in public service, nonsalaried and salaried, from the state to the global level, not that that the mere accumulation of time is what might earn a person such an unofficial title.
Titles, tenure, salaries, even receiving direct credit for an accomplishment. however, have never driven Hillary Clinton. Like all political figures, it is power which she has sought to obtain yet the cynical, suspicious and partisan have often let their personal dislike or mistrust of her or her husband blind to the core of what motivates her.
In a day and age where even a First Lady’s Inaugural gown is believed to carry some hidden message, decoding Hillary Clinton is not difficult. It is just a matter of examining the subtext beneath the full length of her storyline. It means understanding her big picture, regardless of whatever public role she may be playing at any given moment.
In fact, focusing on the big picture is a skill she developed early on and continues to employ not only in terms of achieving a specific piece of public policy but as the very guide to all aspects of her own personal life. The big picture. The Mission.
Now that she’s leaving her post as Secretary of State, I think its important to look more deeply into some of the more abstract but instructive points which Hillary Clinton has used to determine her life’s work, whether or not she chooses to run for President in 2016.
I’ve largely chosen not to write publicly about Hillary Clinton in the past for a number of reasons.
In striving to be objective, I’ve found it difficult at times to not be subjective about her.
When a person is not only a topic of analysis but has also become a friend, its also a challenge to determine the boundary between disclosing a scoop and respecting privacy.
The primary reason I’ve not written about her more frequently, however, is simply that I’ve got far too much to say, certainly more than anyone should be asked to reasonably read online in a website article.
So, in an attempt to summarize as neatly as possible, all that I have observed and come to believe about one of the most extraordinary human beings of our times who happens to be a friend, I find it best to glimpse that bigger picture, the core values and principals by which she attempts to conduct every day of her personal and public life.
The Midwestern Methodist values first inculcated in her as a child and then the principals she developed for herself as she learned through unrelenting hard work, failures, betrayals, achievements and carefully-considered commitments are the foundation of not only what drive her but sustain and balance her.
The essence of all of this is one guiding principal: life itself is a mystery, and unexpected difficulties are its one constant, yet somehow, even in small, anonymous measures, one gains a sense of purpose in one’s life by helping other people in their lives.
For Hillary Clinton, that’s the only reason to pursue the awesome degree of power which she has: to create change that will help the greatest number of people in the greatest need. That has always been her mission.
She doesn’t manage to do this flawlessly or even successfully in every crisis or situation, but she will also be the first to say she is simply like every one of us, a mortal human being. And that reveals another core value which guides her.
She knows she is a symbol and that many people invest far greater hope in her power than she could possibly live up to, but she never loses sight of the fact that she is simply one person, with deficiencies like all of this.
It’s the reason why, among those who’ve worked closest with her, one finds that while she has sought increased power she also singularly lacks a massive ego. I believe that, for her, ego gets in the way of achieving.
This plays out in public policy in one very efficient manner which reveals another principal: she doesn’t really care whether or not people like or approve of her personally, the mission is what matters.
She’s learned too that many people say and do things they regret or may later change their minds about.
She’s been emotionally attacked by those who made lucrative professions hating her and been wounded more passively by those closest to her, even among those she considered friends or allies and, of course, political allies and rivals but she knows she occupies the same worlds as they do and will get no where by avoiding or refusing to engage them. This brings up her enormous capacity for forgiveness.
Take a look at her June of 2008 concession speech to Obama for the greatest proof of some of this. She firmly made clear to supporters that her presidential campaign was not a personal cult but a mission for a greater good.
A globetrotter long before she became Secretary of State, she has gone to practically every corner of the globe and encountered every culture, lifestyle and educational and socioeconomic level. From it, she always strives to find what human beings have in common and from this her ability to value every individual, without regard to what power they have to help her, has only deepened. When someone is telling her something, face to face, she shows them the respect of listening.
Further, this has deepened her empathy.
That ability has grown into one of the keys to her success: a striving and ability to always understand the reasons why an individual with whom she disagrees believes what they do; she always approaches a conflict by first seeking to see what she does from an opponent’s viewpoint, giving her a capacity to see herself objectively.
While there are many other core values which propel her, one that is quiet and rarely discussed is that of Gratitude, a character trait I capitalize because she has done so when using that word in written form to me. Gratitude for opportunity, her parents, her husband and child, her ruggedly loyal staff, her supporters, her health.
All of this has worked together to teach her how to simultaneously keep one eye on the small-picture of practical matters right at hand with the other eye on the larger intention, the goal, the mission. She knows enough about life to always realize that dealing with the small-picture is a risky investment in that it may not always result in the goal of the big picture, but by making conscious choices to move forward, she has seen that the arc of her life can deliver her to an even greater, unexpected accomplishment.
Perhaps some day I will further explain through examples and anecdotes why I come to the above conclusions, but the opportunity to have known her for more than twenty years now might permit me to add one further character trait to the most predominant one she possesses.
Few in the world, even her most vociferous enemies, will deny that Hillary Clinton has enormous strength.
To that, I will simply add for the moment that she also has an equal degree of warmth.
- Obama: Hillary Clinton will go down as ‘one of the finest U.S. Secretaries of State’ (wtvr.com)
- Hero of the Week – 1.25.13, Hillary Rodham Clinton (notesfromasouthernkitchen.com)
- Bipartisan praise for Hillary Clinton as she moves on (cbsnews.com)
- Clinton says Benghazi attack part of broader North Africa challenge (cnn.com)
- Videos: Hillary Clinton on the Hill (kaystreet.wordpress.com)