I’ve often been struck by how much people seemed to like Roger Williams. Williams, you will recall, was the Puritan minister who was thrown out of New England for teaching unpalatable things concerning holiness and rights to land. Even while ministers and authority figures in Massachusetts opposed him, some of those very opponents also continued to respect him. The high point of that strand of the story came when The Suits arrived at Williams’ door to bundle him on to the next boat back to England. But he was not there: he had been warned by a friend and fled. Years later, Williams revealed the name of that friend: one of the biggest Suits of all, his opponent John Winthrop.
How does someone retain the respect and friendship of one’s “enemies?” I am not referring to mortal enemies, but those on the opposite side of the fence -- those across the aisle -- the yin to one’s yang. Perhaps this snippet from an NPR book review sheds some light.
The book in question is Paris: A Love Story, by Kati Marton. It’s an autobiography, covering Marton’s marriage to diplomat Richard Holbrooke. I was struck by this story:
When Holbrooke fell ill, Marton received calls of concern from two leaders Holbrooke was often at odds with — President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan.
"I think they understood that he was throwing himself body and soul into the work," says Marton. "I was attending Mass with my friend Samantha Power, and Karzai's call came through, so I stepped outside. . . . I said to him, 'Mr. President, for Richard, Afghanistan is more than an assignment. He's absolutely passionate about your country and about your people, and committed to finding some kind of a solution to this.' And I thought I heard emotion when he said, 'We need him back here.'
"And that [was] followed a nanosecond later by a call from the President of Pakistan," Marton continues. "He said, 'Kati, I told him he was overdoing it. He was traveling to the most awful places and crawling inside those tents in refugee camps, and I told him, 'Richard, you're not as young as you think.' So it was a real human-to-human conversation. And whatever anybody says about President Zardari's weaknesses, for me, he was a human being.”
An honorable man can be recognized as such even by his opponents, and human affection can be refreshingly broad in its boundaries. I think Winthrop recognized in Williams things that he himself valued -- spiritual passion, love for God and a commitment to live by the truth. Even when he did not agree with what Williams called truth, he nevertheless recognized in him an honorable man. It was enough to impel him to slip over to his house under the cover of night and say, “Roger, they’re coming for you. You’ll have to run for it. But remember, friend -- try not to overdo it."