In a recent New Yorker examination of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, historian Simon Schama pointed a spotlight on The Queen’s competitive advantage as a leader: Decency.
Schama notes, “John Grigg—who was a fierce critic of the monarchy… in the nineteen-sixties… said, ‘Well, the reason why she behaves decently is because she is authentically an absolutely decent person.’ It’s very striking coming from him.”
Decency stands out precisely because it has become so rare. We can blame social platforms for unleashing our darker natures. They were always there. The perceived imperviousness to accountability for what we say and do online simply enabled them.
Every human being is fraught with complexity. We all are imperfect. Today, it is fashionable to throw out the good with the bad, canceling our former heroes for their foibles. The harder work is to treat every one with decency; distilling positive, productive traits, examining them in the context of the times and modeling the best, even amid our own faults and failures.
Decency begins with open minded listening. And Queen Elizabeth was a good listener. She seemed to see everyone she encountered as a fascinating jigsaw puzzle, a work in progress with valuable insights and wisdom to share. Her decency drew us out. Her sincerity could be stunning. Even her harshest critics often had to admit that these elements so mixed to create one extraordinary individual.
There’s a quote floating around the web from Brené Brown that resonates with many of us. Decency lies at its core.
“We need to dispel the myth that empathy is walking in someone else’s shoes. Rather than walking in your shoes, I need to learn how to listen to the story you tell about what it’s like in your shoes and believe you even when it doesn’t match my experiences.”
And even if we don’t agree, decency can bring us closer. Perhaps, that is Queen Elizabeth’s best legacy.