The death of Sen. John McCain resulted in an outpouring of tributes expressing sympathy, respect, and honor.
As I listened to and read the testimonials of praise, I found myself fixated on his capture in Vietnam.
I couldn’t shake the fact that he could have used his privilege (the prominence of his storied military family) to be released early but chose to stand with his fellow POWs. For me, that spoke volumes about his character – that he would sacrifice his own freedom and well-being to demonstrate solidarity with his comrades.
I began to ponder: What kind of spirit drives a person to do something like that? What kind of heart do you need to do something like that? What kind of mindset must you have to do something like that?
It takes a mind set on doing the right thing. It takes a servant’s heart. And it takes a spirit of love.
Was John McCain perfect? No, he was flawed like the rest of us. But he had integrity and dignity.
John McCain, in his refusal of a preferential release in Vietnam, demonstrated for us how to use privilege the right way. He showed us how to be a good ally.
In recent months, I have had several conversations with friends and acquaintances who ask how they can use their privilege to help others.
My response has been that they not allow frustration to force them into inaction; that they resist the temptation of seeing themselves as guardian angels; and that they find ways to use their privilege to advocate for those who don’t have the same advantage.
Advocacy, of course, takes different forms – it could mean building a trusting relationship with someone; it could mean putting yourself in harm’s way for the benefit of someone else; it could mean aligning yourself with a cause, purpose, individual or group, etc.
But looking at John McCain’s sacrifice, I think I need to walk back my response and talk a little more about motivation. I’m thinking something like: privilege is something that needs to be checked repeatedly, when interacting with or advocating for those without a favored position or circumstance; and your interaction or advocacy needs to be fueled by a spirit of love, a servant’s heart and a desire to do the right thing.
Then, I will point to John McCain as an example of a person who put service to others over and above his own self interests.