Jefferson’s mind, heart and actions conflicted with one another his whole life. His behavior at some point contradicted almost everything he believed in.
Example 1: The man who wrote that all men should be free once observed after one of his slaves ran away that a man who has tasted freedom can never be a slave again. Yet, Jefferson’s estate continued to hold slaves, even after his death.
Example 2: He wrote: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter.” Yet, Jefferson quietly urged state officials to press libel charges against editors who criticized his presidency.
But inconsistent behavior didn’t make Jefferson a hypocrite. Disappointing, sometimes, yes. An imperfect leader, he guided the country more through his ideals than his actions: While Jefferson trusted in“the good sense of our people” to steer the nation forward, he also believed that freedom needed a firm push, and he pushed it.
Lesson: By virtue of training yourself in skills, you’ll often know exactly how you’re supposed to perform in a given situation. That doesn’t mean you’ll always be able to carry it off perfectly. If your leadership opportunity turns out to be disappointing, consider the experience a lesson, and apply your knowledge and beliefs better next time.
— Adapted from “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Thomas Jefferson,” Walter Kirn, Time.
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