“What things are you proudest of in your life?”
This is the sort of question that warrants thought and consideration. You can easily sound too full of yourself or — the other side of the coin — so self-effacing that it’s no answer at all.
Pride after all, is one of the seven deadly sins of Christian teaching and the Bible reminds us that “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” In fact, although justifiable pride isn’t a bad thing, when misplaced it has a very bad reputation. it equates with arrogance, vainglory and conceit in some quarters. It makes me wonder if this is a trick question!
I certainly don’t want to be accused of having a haughty spirit or of vainglory and conceit. I’ll try nonetheless to tackle this question honestly while seeking to avoid the pitfalls of hubris.
The easy answer to the question of “what am I proudest of” is to say our children. Tjiama, Joe, Tony. I couldn’t be more proud of them. Their decency. Their compassion. Their heart, and strength, and courage in a difficult world.
And I hope that Leija and I helped to give them a foundation on which they built their values, found their paths and shaped their futures. I am full of joy when I see the lives that they have created and I am indeed proud of them and to be their father.
And I am proud of the choices I made AS their father. The choice to be engaged. To listen. To be patient. To love unconditionally. The choice to be conscious of the example I set. I want to believe I was (am) a good father. However I KNOW that I tried. I made the effort. And that is something I am proud of and always will be.
I am proud too of the choices I made during one of the most challenging times in my life. My first wife Betsy died of cancer when we were both far too young. We were younger than any of my children are now. It’s funny to reflect now on what it was like to confront those challenges with so little life experience to draw upon for reference points or for strength. But, even with much more experience of the world, it would not have been any easier, I think.
We managed those days with dignity and, I believe, grace. And I’m proud of that. I’m proud that we continued to embrace life while also being able to talk to each other honestly about death. I’m proud that we faced the challenges with courage and with honesty. And I’m proud that we knew what mattered in our lives and that I chose to be “present” in every way. The lessons I learned over those years have kept me grounded ever since and they remind me, even now, to value the things that truly matter in life — family most of all.
What else gives me pride? I know it will sound corny but I’m proud of a lifetime of service. I didn’t set out to “serve” when I joined the diplomatic corps in 1981. I really had no clue what it was all about but I needed a job, they offered me one, and it all sounded pretty cool.
I learned quickly, however, that it was about service…service to our nation …and service in support of values that I believe in. And that idea of “service” came to matter more and more and it became a force that changed my perspective on how I could…how I should … engage the world. I’m proud that I have been able to serve—and that I still do—in pursuit of the values in which I believe.
I’m proud as well that, when called upon to lead, I took it seriously and gave to those who served with me my best efforts and support. And I’m so very proud that, with their support, we lost no one in our “family” despite the growing risks of representing our nation in a dangerous world.
Finally, I will be deeply proud if how I have chosen to relate to the world and to those I have met along the way, is an example that resonates with my children and grandchildren. If that is part of what I leave them, I’ll be content.
But, no matter what, I’m proud to have served and to have cared and to have at least tried to make a difference in the world.
I never expected it to matter to me so much. But it does.