Gandhi once said, "Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony." I would add that real success and integrity could be defined in this way whether it be personally, in business or in politics. It is when what we think, say and do is in alignment that we are living an authentic life and this is where true power comes from.
I have thought about this much over the last few weeks as many leaders from the pope to the president to pundits (of both political parties) have spoken about the great income and financial inequality and lack economic mobility that exists in the world but more specifically in America. In the United States, economic inequality today is as great as at any time in our country's history. It is not just the poor who are suffering. The vast majority of U.S. citizens have seen no movement in their incomes in more than a generation while the top few percent have garnered nearly all the economic gains.
Over the years many people have approached me about how to get their message through, whether on policy initiatives or in an election. The number one thing I have always said is that the message needs to be genuine to who they are. The most powerful message delivery comes from leaders who live the life they are speaking about. Voters have a pretty keen eye and ear for authenticity and they figure out fairly quickly when what someone says and what someone does is out of alignment. And when this happens no matter how much advertising is bought or the size of audience or the fancy tactics, the message the leader is trying to convey is undermined and greatly weakened.
I have watched Pope Francis over the last few months both live and speak a message that is in harmony. He can talk more powerfully about income inequality because he has refused most of the elegant and rich trappings of the papacy. He wears simple shoes, he lives in a small apartment, he pays his own bills at times, and thus this gives his message regarding our economic system much greater weight. Leaders in this country can learn much from this type of authenticity.
Wealthy people here who have wonderfully lofty intentions could teach and preach with much greater success and weight if they began to live a more simple life with fewer material possessions. They don't need to become poor to teach about the poor, but if they began to live a bit more of a simpler life and helped in their own way on bridging the divide on income inequality in their communities, my guess is they would be much happier and have greater chance of winning victories on policy change in Washington, D.C., and state capitals. I say all this not in judgment but as strategic advice if people want to break through with their message.
I know I could do much more in my life in matching my actions with my words. I have tried over the last few years to simplify my life and be less attached to possessions, but I could still do more. A little over a year ago I sold a beautiful ranch I owned in the hill country of Texas sitting on the Blanco River with a large main house and a guest house, and moved into a dramatically smaller space in Austin. I gave away about 85% of all my possessions that I had accumulated throughout the years to three needy families. I still live well and am better off than most Americans, but I am trying to live with much less.
One question that I try to ask myself each day before I purchase something is "do I need that or do I want that?" Most of what I thought I needed was just a want masquerading as a necessity. Again, it is OK to buy something we want, but it is good to be aware that is what we are doing. And as that awareness grows, we naturally want less. Also, I have decided that if I add something to my home, I need to simultaneously subtract something I have. The accumulation of stuff is really a burden that takes away much of our freedom. An industry has built up in America on places to store things people never use.
I have much more to do to be in harmony, as Gandhi said, but climbing the mountain starts with a few steps forward. And I am hopeful that leaders will emerge who see the example of the pope and understand the greatest capacity for change first exists in ourselves and as that change occurs, starting with how leaders live, then motivating others will become much easier and more effective.
There you have it.
Matthew Dowd is an ABC News analyst and special correspondent.
Opinions expressed in this column do not reflect the views of ABC News.