Like many Americans, I have known many people who have had run-ins with the criminal justice system. By run-ins, I don’t mean a hearing for a speeding ticket. People I have known have done time in federal, state or county prisons. What I have learned from my various friendships with people who have been, or who are about to be, incarcerated is that how they handle it shows a person’s true character.
This week was the stunning conviction of Tom DeLay in a Texas state court. It always amazes me that the feds did not go after Tom DeLay for his fundraising practices. It took a state prosecutor who had the reputation of being willing to put his mother behind bars to take on “The Hammer” Tom Delay. Anyone who has ever met the guy will tell you that he exudes arrogance. He clearly felt he was untouchable, that God was on his side and he did not have to account for his shady accounting.
Not only was I amazed at his brazen flaunting of the law, but after his conviction all I could think about was the clip of Tom DeLay doing the cha-cha to “Wild Thing” on “Dancing with the Stars.” On the clip of one of his dances, he said that dancing was like politics, as it was a challenge and there was also competition. He knew he was in hot water at the time he decided to enter the dance contest, and he just kept doing fancy footwork.
I can’t help but contrast Tom DeLay’s actions with that of his House Republican colleague and my close friend, former Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio. The two people could not be further apart as human beings. When Bob was under the gun, he looked at his life and got his act together. When he left office, he called incoming Democratic Rep. Zack Space to make sure that pending appointments to the Service Academies were taken care of. Space was amazed that someone in that much personal trouble would call up with concerns about potential Service Academy appointments.
It did not end with a phone call to the incoming member of his old seat. Bob Ney proceeded to make personal changes that have made him a role model to many people. Shortly after Bob got off probation, he left for India where I saw him yesterday morning. He is practicing meditation and using his old skills teaching English as a foreign language to help the Tibetan people be able to tell their stories and earn a living in a world that is rapidly changing.
He is now CEO of a new foundation that several of his associates (including yours truly) are starting named “The Mending Minds Foundation.” Its purpose is to help people cope with post-traumatic stress by using many of the meditation techniques developed over hundreds of years by the Tibetan monks and nuns.
I asked Ney what he had learned from his three months in Northern India with the exiled Tibetan government. His answers reveal that he has not only grown but also thrived from his personal adversity and mistakes.
He told me after having traveled to 68 countries he was amazed by how kind and gentle the Tibetan people are. He has learned how important preserving a culture can be to a person’s self-esteem and productivity. He said watching how much the Tibetan community in exile has struggled and how their attitude is so positive is a lesson for us all.
He told me how this has been a spiritual journey for him and how it has given him a chance to recharge his batteries. Bob Ney said that many Tibetans have had it much tougher than he has had and knowing them has given him great strength. He told me that the area is “electric” and that people of all religions come to Northern India to share and learn from many spiritual paths.
Tom DeLay may have been the minority leader who was both feared and respected while Bob Ney was a committee chair. However, the real leader has emerged from these political messes, and it isn’t Mr. DeLay, it’s my friend Bob Ney.