I could not be any more proud of my friend David French, who was surprised with the honor of the Ronald Reagan Award here in DC on Friday night. His impromptu acceptance speech is well worth six minutes to watch. (Amazing to imagine what the promptu version would’ve been like!) And it’s so wonderful that Nancy and his kids could be up there on the stage with him. His daughter Naomi made a play to steal the show, but David was able to maintain control of the microphone. Probably for the best.
Here’s what I was thinking, watching that video: he is the exact same man in that moment that he is all the times I’ve ever been around him.
The truth is that we all adjust our personas for the different audiences we interact with. There’s obviously appropriateness in that up to a point. If you relate to your spouse exactly the same way you do to a room full of strangers… well, actually, that would be fascinating to see you put into practice, but you would be crazy.
For most of us, the temptation is go too far the other way, being different people to please different audiences in our lives. The most obvious examples are the public figures (sadly, often politicians) who are one person under the lights and a completely different person away from them. As if we didn’t have enough contemporary examples, the appalling new (yet 50-year old) revelations about JFK furnish yet another.
Most of us aren’t public in that way, or so spectacularly living a double life. Yet in small ways, we compromise on who we are in order to win approval of our audience. We (myself certainly included) are just a bit different at work, at home, with our families, with different groups of friends.
I see as little of that in David French as in anyone I know. In my experience he is the same principle-driven, passionate and yet playful person all the time. He is a happy warrior, a term first used (I think) to apply to Al Smith that applies rather literally here — David actually saw combat! And in public settings, whether he’s preaching to the choir or to the ones who can’t stand the music, he’ll say pretty much the same things.
In an era where people of faith talk freely about it with others of their same tribe but feel the need to downplay or apologize for it to others, he’s open with everyone about his perspective: humans are broken people who have been given a mission to restore a broken world – and freedom of conscience is essential for us to pursue that mission. Many disagree with him on many points, but it seems that his honesty and directness do more to build bridges than tiptoeing through conversations like minefields, as many of us tend to do.
The quality of being a whole, always-the-same-guy kind of person is captured by the word integrity. It describes David.
The other huge good-news story this week in circles of friends David and I share was Linsanity – the shocking success of Jeremy Lin of the New York Knicks (and formerly Harvard). Read Tim Dalrymple’s thoughtful reflections and 2010 interview with Lin, and this NYT piece on Lin’s cultural significance. People have been struck by Lin’s humility in talking about his stunning success, and his openness about his faith.
Again, it’s integrity. He’s clearly the same person now that he’s suddenly a hero as he was 10 days (!) ago when the Knicks came thisclose to waiving him. And he’s going to need to stay that person as it sinks in that his life has changed forever, as he’s become a cultural icon (particularly for Asian-Americans) and may well remain one for the rest of his life. Integrity can be tested in many ways, and that’s certainly one of them.
Integrity works hand in hand with humility. Like Jeremy Lin, David French has received his recent blessings humbly. I’m sure he’s embarrassed to read this, as he was to get the award. And if you or I got an award, we’d have to try to be humble, even if we didn’t actually feel humble. It’s mandatory, you know.
When it’s someone else, though, someone of integrity, there’s no need for us to be humble! We can be just as proud of them and happy for them as we want to be. There’s only a limit to our ability to take joy in the success of others if we impose it on ourselves.
So in David’s case, let’s not do that. It’s time to celebrate, y’all!