Jimmy Carter has been in the news a lot recently. Between carrying on with his Habitat for Humanity projects despite being injured in an accident and he and Mrs. Carter becoming the longest married presidential couple in American history, he’s grabbed a few headlines.
So an Australian friend of mine was sharing one of the stories online. I offered my own perspectives as one of Carter’s fellow Georgians. My main point was this: Carter was much less successful in the office of President as he has been in other pursuits. I opined that if we lost his presidency we wouldn’t lose much but that if we lost the other 91 years of his life, we’d be much worse off as a nation.
So I asked my friend and his fellow Australians to consider that Carter has been a peanut farmer, a naval officer, a member of his local school board, a Sunday school teacher, a home builder, an educator, a poet, and an author. He’s had a busy life. I noted that he and Mrs. Carter still live in the typical middle class home he built when they returned to Plains, the only home they’ve ever owned. He built much of the furniture in the home, including their bed. They still take their turns cutting grass and cleaning the building at their church. He has helped Habitat for Humanity put roofs over the heads of thousands of people. He helped establish a solar farm that now provides about half the power used in his rural hometown. This man is a walking, talking demonstration of good Southern Agrarian ideals. He really is what people think about when they talk about “servant leadership.” He’s a good, decent, honest, salt of the earth Georgia boy and he’s always looking to pull his own weight and trying to find a way to make this world a better place.
The impact he has had on his hometown cannot be overstated. Since he was just a kid, he was impacting his neighbors for good. Even without his presidency, Plains would be worse off without him. You really have to go down to Plains and out to his boyhood home near Archer and see it all for yourself to appreciate it.
As I was laying all this information out for them, it hit me. We spend so much time and effort worrying about who the president is, who our government leaders are, what party is in power, etc. But we see that Jimmy Carter has done far more as a citizen than he ever did as president. Do the math with me. There’s roughly 350 million Americans and in your lifetime, most likely fewer than 20 of them will ever be president, maybe a dozen or so. That’s a pretty insignificant number in comparison. What we need is less focus on the Oval Office and more focus on the Folks on Main Street. You and I are unlikely to ever be president, and the world will never miss us in that role. But will the world be better because we were citizens? Will our neighbors, our hometowns, our civic organizations, our school boards, our churches, be better because we were here? Are we looking to the leadership of Citizen Carter as he sets an example of how we should serve our terms as citizens? We are the ones who can make a difference. We are the ones who must make a difference. We have to think locally and act locally.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire