A friend has been sharing with some of his wide circle thoughts about the relative greatness of Thomas Jefferson and William Jefferson Clinton. After some delay, I responded to him today.
"My younger friends," I said, "never stop telling me how, now I’m retired, my life must just be one long holiday. When however your stimulating message arrived, I was not sufficiently in holiday mode to give it the considered reply it deserves.
"Today being the closing day of the Olympics, I would bracket the names you mention, Jefferson and Clinton, with those of our new sporting heroes, in order to reflect on the true nature of leadership. I’m the greatest belongs to someone illness has since ravaged – we saw him of course at the opening ceremony – but the sentiment has been echoed by others on their own behalf in the past fortnight. Instinctively, though, don’t we all know that authentic leadership lies with those who are most modest about their achievement? We think of the Queen, for instance, but look also at Mo Farah: his first Gold was celebrated immediately by an embrace for the runner up, then by kneeling in prayer.
"All of us on your circulation list are or have no doubt been leaders one way or another – even if it’s only within the circle of our families. We are deservedly proud of our successes, but we also need to reflect on what we might have done better. As a lawyer, for instance, did I at times put the interests of the firm (i.e. myself) ahead of those of my clients?
"With the golden anniversary of matriculation coming up, we ‘62ers have been asked to reflect – in writing – upon our respective careers and indeed lives, so I’m currently dwelling on the past rather more than on the future. But it’s the future which – as a society – we must plan for. Courage is never more needed: difficult choices face us and the generations for which we most care. What style of a just life awaits them? Does our lifestyle provide an authentic model?
"A couple of months ago, I completed the last section of the main French Compostela route. Doing it solo, I had time to think, and what I was most grateful for was to be living in the here and now. That’s both the now, the reality of putting one foot down after another, come solid rain or searing sun; and the here – enjoying a beautiful part of the world, not fretting about communication with the world outside it, however easy that has become. Is it too pompous to claim I found a rule for life?"