Defend the absent

Dr. Wayne Dyer was a prolific author and speaker introducing many to his life coaching skills. He had a common sense, not-preachy way of offering his counsel. One of my favorite lessons of his is to “defend the absent.”

What does that mean? When his children would speak ill of a classmate, he would take up for that person. When his children would complain, he would say, since he or she is absent from this conversation, I thought I would defend him or her.

His point was two-fold. First and foremost, no one is perfect. No one. Second, talking about someone without knowing all of the circumstances, does not permit the target of the criticism to defend him or herself. Not that they did not do wrong, but they are not there to defend themselves.

I mention this today as there seems to be open game on anyone with a public history. We seem to judge past actions based on current norms that oversimplifies the issues and context of the day. I am not defending or condemning any decision, I am saying context is important.

As an example, LBJ was a good public servant, but coarse man. There was no better leader to navigate major legislation on Civil Rights, Voting Rights, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Often, he offended people who wanted him to move faster or not move at all. Yet, he horse-traded his way through and these bills were signed into law. He appealed to people’s better angels, knowing he would likely drive some folks from his party.

Former Senator and Vice-President Joe Biden is a good person and public servant. He may or may not be the best candidate for President, but his long history will reveal the good, the bad and the ugly of governing. He is known to be a collaborator and, in spite of the opinions of strident party members on both sides, we are in need of collaboration to get things done. Collaboration is not a dirty word.

So, as Democrats consider candidates, please do so through the lens of context and defense of the absent. Why did someone vote a certain way? Why did they compromise with someone who would make your blood boil? What favor was traded to get a key bill passed?

Defend the absent. There are no perfect people. Even Mother Theresa had faults and doubts, and she was one of the finest people to walk the earth.