The great religions of the world have much to say regarding leadership and wisdom in public office.
In Judaism, we have a maxim —almost 2,000 years old — that reflects on qualities that humans, especially elected officials, should aspire to obtain: wisdom, power and honor.
Our sages asked, “Who is wise? One who learns from every person.
“Who is powerful? One who controls his impulses.
“Who is honored? One who honors all people.”
True wisdom, power and honor, Judaism teaches, come from humility, openness and self-control.
These lessons are echoed in modern studies of leadership. Contemporary research shows that leaders who know how to listen, respect others and act with restraint can better bring people together and accomplish their goals. Daniel Coleman, an expert in leadership, wrote in the Harvard Business Review that good leaders understand how important empathy, social skills and self-restraint are.
At Tuesday’s immigration rally in Bluffton, over a hundred American citizens joined with religious and community leaders to express themselves on the decision by Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner to request authorization from the Department of Homeland Security to create what is basically an Immigration, Customers and Enforcement squad in our community using some members of his staff. Beaufort County taxpayers would pick up the tab. This designation would increase and broaden the sheriff’s authority and power to arrest and detain undocumented immigrants for deportation. The sheriff has said his intention is to arrest and deport the “worst of the worst,” referring to undocumented criminals in our community.
Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Who wants criminals to prowl in our streets, be they citizens or undocumented immigrants?
The problem is that there is a human rights dimension to this issue that extends beyond the criminal justice piece. Some in the community feel that the undocumented workers who commit no crimes and who service our way of life — who work hard every day with our full knowledge that they are undocumented — do not deserve to live in fear. Tuesday’s protesters were demonstrating not only because they believe this policy is wrong and cruel but also as an appeal to the sheriff to meet with community leaders.
Religious leaders, like myself, who participated in the event, feel that dialogue is crucial when trying to solve problems. We preach this maxim in our houses of worship all the time, and it applies to preserving shalom in the community at large.
We need leaders, especially elected officials, who demonstrate these qualities:
▪ A willingness to listen to and learn from all people.
▪ The capacity to demonstrate power through restraint.
▪ An ability to command honor and respect by extending honor and respect to all those who deserve it.
Clearly, we have deep divisions on the issue of immigration. Shouldn’t the sheriff bring together community leadership on such a complicated issue while respecting the voices of those who may become collateral damage in raids on undocumented people who are law-abiding?
The religious community should be concerned about this proposal because we are the ones who are supposed to care about those who have no voice. We are supposed to support the strangers in our midst. As God said to the newly freed Israelites in the pages of the Torah, “Remember the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
My prayer is that all in the religious community will appeal to our sheriff to exercise leadership by sitting down and talking with his constituents to build bridges rather than walls and to create a foundation of trust and mutual respect for all who live in the Lowcountry.