by Christopher Macdonald
Generally, my enthusiasm for attending crowded events, to see public figures who require high levels of security, is tepid at best. I am also sceptical of political family dynasties, as they are manifestations of plutocracy, more often than of meritocracy. It seems in politics, as in the World of Disney, the heir to Pluto’s dynasty is inevitably Goofy.
But there was a spare ticket and my mom needed a driver, so on Friday, October 11, I went to see Michelle Obama speak in Ottawa, at The Canadian Tire Centre. While the audience filtered through security screening and into the amphitheatre, the prodigious hype in the form of a montage of inspiring pictures of Mrs. Obama, displayed on the big screens, and the glowing introductions from local media personalities just further triggered my growing cynicism about political figures in general.
I wondered whether Michelle Obama was an average person who was made exceptional by circumstance, or an exceptional person whose public image is managed make to her more relatable to the average American. The thing is, despite my jaded attitude, and narrow presuppositions, in a little over an hour, she won me over. I am now a fan of Mrs. Obama.
During the informal Q&A style presentation, as she shared some of her formative childhood experiences, and funny stories about her time as First Lady, she revealed herself to be a dedicated mother, a fitness guru, a philanthropist, and a bit of a stoic philosopher and comedienne.
Listening to her, one got the sense that it is Michelle Obama’s character that has made her an exceptional person. Moreover, what she seems most eager to share with her audience, are the values and ethics that make up her character, so that others, especially children, can succeed too.
Michelle Obama’s appearance in Ottawa on October 11, coincided with The International Day Of The Girl, which serves as a reminder of the ongoing need to support girls to overcome inequality. In reference to this, she emphasized the importance of valuing children as ends in-of-themselves and never as means to a cute photo op, as some politicians seem to do.
She credited being treated as a person of value in early childhood by her family, both as the keystone of the resilience she needed to overcome challenges, such as racism, and as the foundation of the self-confidence she needed to pursue the opportunities that lead to her success in life.
She also shared her definition of excellence. According to Michelle Obama, excellence is not just a mark on a quantitative scale of achievement, but rather a qualitative product of a person’s habits and attitudes. What exemplified excellence for her, was how her father, despite suffering from a painful illness, went to his janitorial job each day, without complaint, in order to support his family.
When confronting racism, she explained that considering the context, or background, of a racist person will help one to adhere to her maxim of “Going high when they go low”. Taking this into account, she said, acts as a reminder that their behaviour reflects them only- not who you are. She added that, this realization does not justify racism, or make it less hurtful, but does make it easier to choose the most constructive response to it.
In 2009, Barack Obama becoming President was inspiring to people world-wide, because it asserted that the USA was indeed a meritocracy. This year, on The International Day of the Girl, Michelle Obama’s talk was inspiring as a reminder that merit is made of hard work, good values and compassion for others.
Walking out to the parking lot, I pondered out loud, that Michelle Obama was the type of person whom you wished every child could have as a school teacher. My mom agreed. Perhaps what makes her so appealing to others, is that her character just seems to resonate with that better version of ourselves, which we all aspire to manifest, especially as children, but which we sometimes need reminding about, especially as adults.