Today doctors at Mt. Sinai hospital will update Toronto on the health of Rob Ford. There are reasons to think the news will not be good, perhaps even gravely so. If the diagnosis from doctors is as bad as it could be given what we do know, the question is not how the Fords will react. The question is how will the rest of us?
There can be no doubt Ford is an incredibly polarizing figure, it is essentially what got him elected. His many civic failures aside he has time and again failed the most basic tests of being a decent person. By all accounts he is a bigoted, petty, and abusive person who also associates with violent criminals. Da Vinci himself would have a hard time painting a sympathetic figure given what there is to work with.
Anyone who reads my work here or follows me on twitter, knows well I am far from being a Ford supporter. I will not retract a single word I’ve written about him based on what happens today. Nor do I support the idea any health crisis wipes clean a person’s history of bad deeds. That history is theirs alone though. It does not preclude me from showing someone a measure of concern they have denied others. Try as they might, no one has ever stopped anyone from choosing to be a better person.
While Ghandi is often misquoted as saying “Be the change you wish to see in the world”, it is still good advice. If we truly believe change in the public discourse is necessary those of us so often outraged at Ford’s divisive, vindictive and frankly toxic nature should not now embrace the same. Hard as it may be we can choose not to respond in kind, but in kindness.
I fully understand why someone would be angry enough with him to disagree with me. Some say their sympathy is reserved for others more deserving. I understand the sentiment there too, even though sympathy is not something we hold in a finite reserve. Regardless, the choice anyone makes will not affect Ford. It will only affect the person making it.
Ford and his family are unlikely to ever know people who faced with grim news of his health, chose to hold their anger close. People sometimes wrap themselves in anger like a protective blanket, mistaking the barrier it creates for comfort. They forget anger is a weight, and one they will eventually put down. It’s just a matter of how long they choose to struggle under its load before they do. If you can’t show concern for him, have some for yourself.
Should my altruistic appeal fall flat there are selfish reasons not to give in to our darker selves. Ford knowing legions of lefty pinko bike riding latte sippers felt bad for him is perhaps the ultimate victory over his brand of politics. The fracas divisions he has worked to foster, set aside by simple humanity. A victory over ugly politics as a consolation for the victory we’ve been denied over the politician.
Whatever news of Ford’s health we hear today, some things will not change. First, he will not be re-elected Mayor. More importantly, he will have lived much of his life as an angry and hateful person. Those are his burdens, the soul of Toronto is too beautiful to also make them ours.