Mike O'Donnell: A little grace goes a long way in politics
OPINION: Way back in 1972, Hunter S Thompson – the clown prince of gonzo journalism – wrote his classic work, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail.
What started as a fly-in-the-glass monograph on a United States election, turned into a crucifixion of Richard Milhouse Nixon as the president's true colours revealed themselves to the writer.
No shrinking violet, Thompson ended up describing Nixon as a swine of a man and a dupe completely lacking in grace.
In explaining the social context for the unlikely rise of Nixon despite his many shortcomings, Thompson coined the phrase "when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro".
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Having just finished working with a group of smart Americans, I can't help but think the same is true of the office of the president these days.
In the last fortnight alone there have been Twitter threats against sovereign nations, profanity laden attacks on state employees and a bizarre episode involving the head of the Boy Scouts of America.
As one of the Americans noted to me, when you get a reality TV host taking over the White House then grace and honesty leave pretty quickly afterwards.
While New Zealand is far from perfect, returning to godzone this week the overwhelming thought I had about our leadership is that by comparison; honesty and grace aren't completely lacking.
I remember first thinking this last December when then prime minister John Key resigned.
The phrase he kept on coming back to was that he wanted to put his family first, that he had given all he had to give, and there was just no more fuel in the tank.
It's a simple concept, and one we've all felt at some time in our lives. Its also got a sense of grace about it. The primacy of family and that hollow feeling of an empty emotional tank.
I was pleased to see the then-Labour leader Andrew Little respond in kind. Though Key had been the worst sort of nightmare for anyone to marshal opposition against, Little made a point of saying Key had served the country well and with dedication.
Little displayed a similar sense of grace when he resigned last week. His wording was carefully structured.
"As leader, I must take responsibility …. I do take responsibility and believe that Labour must have an opportunity to perform better under new leadership."
Apart from being consistent with the honesty and integrity he displayed over the preceding two years, it also provided his party and his successor with a bloodless coup. The best recipe to empower a successor.
Prime Minister Bill English responded with magnanimity, noting Little's honesty and integrity. Not quite the "rock" he's been compared to recently.
Then more recently we had Jacinda Arden, the new Labour leader with the "Persil-white chompers," display similar values by giving sidekick Kelvin Davis a serious drubbing when he failed to display manners in the public forum.
The thing about grace is that, apart from being good in its own right, it also provides something for others to aspire to. It actively nourishes leadership.
Contrast this to Greens co-leader Metiria Turei's pronouncements of the last few weeks and the downstream collateral damage that ultimately axed her leadership.
While some saw it as a brave move, Turei's confession of committing benefit fraud 20 years ago meant that she was confirming to the world she had been a liar and potentially a criminal.
The subsequent discovery that she had also committed alleged electoral fraud by using her child's fathers address to manipulate who she could vote for, meant that she had consciously undermined the electoral system.
And there's nothing gracious about an elected politician who has been caught defrauding an electoral system.
Far from nourishing leadership, Turei's behaviour was corrosive. Instead of providing her party with something aspirational, it was repulsive to many.
Particularly to Green MPs Kennedy Graham and David Clendon who made clear that lying to a public agency was something they could ever condone in any way.
Hence their resignation last Monday and the set of actions put into motion that ultimately led to Turei's forced standing down a few days later.
It's now just six weeks until the general election, and if the last two are anything to go by, pretty much anything could happen. Given the strong correlation between grace and leadership, let's hope we continue to see it in evidence.
Given recent events I can't help but think of another quote from Hunter S Thompson, this one from an early work, The Proud Highway.
"A man who procrastinates in his choosing will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance".
Mike "MOD" O'Donnell is an e-commerce manager and professional director. His Twitter handle is @modsta and he once met Hunter S Thompson in the Woody Creek Tavern.