Betty Ford recently passed on. Truly a life to be celebrated! In my book Humanity at Work: Encouraging Spirit, Achievement & Truth to Flourish in the Workplace (Chapel Hill Press 2008), I present a surefire way to assess the worth of anyone of us. The technique is known as “counter history” or “counter factual questions”. Pick any event and consider what the world would look like if the outcome would have been different? In that respect what if Betty Ford did not have the courage to tell the world of her addiction? Tens of thousands of addicts may not have come forward and sought treatment. The Betty Ford Center which has treated over 90,000 addicts would not exist.
Betty Ford taught us that nobility cloaks an individual who does not use notoriety to claim celebrity. Rather she used her prominence to enrich humanity. Her openness provoked by a clear concern for struggling souls helped remove the stigma attached to addiction. In doing so she gave addicts permission to seek treatment, while reminding us that regardless of our social status we are all flawed in some way or manner.
Several years ago I had a business reason to visit a drug abuse treatment center. While being escorted through the center by a young woman- a former addict, I witnessed an act of compassion I can still vividly recall. The elevator stopped on one of the floors, and a young man a resident of the center came on board. The young woman asked him how he was doing. Without making eye contact he whispered that he was fine. When the elevator next stopped the young man started to leave us, but stopped when the young woman called out his name. She walked over to him, smiled as she rested her hand on his cheek and said, “I hope you have a good day”. The young man returned her smile, thanked her and departed. Later on I thought about that encounter and realized that the young woman was not simply offering our riding companion a commonly expressed wish. Rather she was praying over him, a prayer of empathy.
When Betty Ford with profound humility disclosed her addictions, was she not praying over similarly infirmed souls? Surely her prayers have been answered.