What is the one thing that we can learn from Toronto Mayor Rob Ford?
Like everyone else, I have over the past few weeks been following the travails of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. Given my busy travel schedule, perhaps the better way to phrase it is that the Ford story has been following me – as it has everyone.
In fact one would likely have to be from another planet not to have heard of Ford and his personal exploits.
While it is difficult to take everything in given the sheer magnitude of reporting, coupled with of course the “shock factor” of what is being revealed, how could such an individual be elected mayor of Canada’s largest city?
Is this aberrant behavior something that has just come up out of nowhere, and threatens what to this point in time has been a long history of commendable service?
Sadly, when you look at the track record of Mayor Ford going back to his entry into the world of public service in 2000, it would seem that no one should be surprised by what is happening. Rather than going into the sordid details of a past that would make most people cringe – I will leave that to the media – I wanted to examine the mayor’s story from the standpoint of his legacy and its impact beyond his own personal reputation. Specifically, how does Rob Ford’s actions impact politics and more precisely politicians in general.
This is an important point to consider given that it speaks to the fact that we as individuals do not live and work in isolated vacuums in which our actions have no effect on those with whom we come in contact either directly or indirectly. It also highlights the delicate nature of a brand in that even though you may have done everything possible to build a positive legacy, the actions of another can easily undermine your efforts. This is especially true in a fast paced world where sound bites and quick and convenient conclusions are the order of the day.
For example how many people are thinking that while extreme, Rob Ford’s conduct further damages the already suspect reputation of all politicians?
In his interviews with David Frost, one of Nixon’s greatest laments was that his errors in judgement had tarnished the American system of government, demonstrated by his statement;
I let them down. I let down my friends, I let down my country, and worst of all I let down our system of government, and the dreams of all those young people that ought to get into government but now they think; ‘Oh it’s all too corrupt and the rest’.
Nixon then concluded by saying;
Yeah… I let the American people down. And I’m gonna have to carry that burden with me for the rest of my life. My political life is over.
It was a poignant moment in the Frost interviews – a moment of personal reflection and self-assessment – in which Nixon realized that the impact of his actions extended far beyond his own life and the circumstances that led to his downfall.
While this level of emotional intelligence seems to elude Mayor Rob Ford, at least for the time being, it again reminded me of the analogy of the small pebble dropped in the middle of a pond. You know the one in which the pebble ultimately creates ripples that expand outward to effect an area many more times greater than itself.
In this context, how many of us truly stop to think of the ripple effect our words and actions have in our own pond? Even more importantly, how does this awareness affect our personal decisions on a day in, day out basis?