I was struck last weekend by the particular words George H. W. Bush’s friends chose to honor him. Doris Kearns Goodwin, presidential historian and author, said that Bush was a “good and decent man with character, civility, compromise and moderation.” Tom Brokaw said that Bush “was the same in person [in private] as he was in public, he was this modest man...he was so authentic.” Barbara had written similarly years earlier in her forward to her husband’s book of letters, “George H.W. Bush is the most decent, dearest man and the most loving father.”
These days it seems that everything needs to be defined by superlatives: the best, the most amazing, the greatest! Praising a public figure for his moderation and modesty seems quaint, just as some people question the tagline for our 75th anniversary - “Shouldn’t it be 75 years of excellence, not just good?” - or voice skepticism about our mission statement’s call to raising decent children. The problem with hyping human excellence and underrating modesty is that it separates us from the ground of our being and a proper understanding of our place in the scheme of things. As Jesus said, “No one is good but God alone.” Braggarts seem inauthentic and untrustworthy precisely because they are disconnected from the source of all that is truly good and beautiful. To be connected to that source is to be humbled.
My favorite images from both Bush presidents were when they appeared on stage alongside comedians doing often unflattering impressions of them. I trust people who can laugh at themselves. Both men were flawed, as we all are, but they knew that about themselves and were humbled rather than offended by or scared of that insight. In this season in which we celebrate the redeeming power of connection to a higher source, it seems fitting to honor the service of decent, loving, and responsible human beings.
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Campbell Hall is an independent, Episcopal, K-12 coeducational day school. We are a community of inquiry committed to academic excellence and to the nurturing of decent, loving, and responsible human beings.