On Monday, I did a 20-minute interview with CBC journalist, Amanda Margison, about Rob Ford's image and what he may have to do to recover from the long string of scandals that began before he was elected in 2010, including substance abuse, heavy drinking, bizarre fits of violence, alleged interaction gang members, homophobia, misogyny, suspected spousal abuse, and constant disruption of City of Toronto business.
I said a lot of things during the TV interview, most of which was scrapped, save for two sentences that, judging by the hate mail I received, was not taken well by some viewers. But what you didn't hear was me say was that Mr. Ford going out to a nightclub last weekend was a great PR move, that I'm happy he's trying to lose weight going to a gym, and that he needs support to get through his addiction and personal problems, no matter how I may feel about his policies. The word that did not come across in the interview was empathy.
Society pits us against each other and we've been conditioned to take sides on every issue, but in the name of empathy, instead of seeing Rob Ford's mistakes and blunders and scandals as a political issue, let's do something unheard of: let's think of Rob Ford as a human being.
I'm not a political strategist and try to keep my personal politics out of my work as an image consultant because I look at my clients not as job figures or social roles, but as humans, as men. My work is to bring them to a place of acceptance and heightened self-esteem because the way we feel about ourselves dictates our image.
The Toronto Sun article that triggered the CBC interview quoted me as saying, "He doesn't respect himself and how can (he) possibly respect anyone else?"
Were Mr. Ford my client, my goal would be to bring him to a point of liking himself, because people who like themselves take care of themselves. Self-respecting types dress well, they care about what they put into their bodies, they're active, and they're pleasant to be around. People who like themselves don't have drinking or serious weight problems, aren't slovenly, obstructive or aggressive, and they are not associated with crack cocaine.
One of Ford's main problems as far as I'm concerned, is his weight. Not sure where he tips the scales these days, but one of my clients, at least at the time I worked with him, was the same weight as Ford: 330 pounds. Besides their physical and sartorial complaints, my client said that fat people don't like themselves and used Rob Ford as an example.
I too have carried a few extra dozen pounds around in my life, and it felt terrible. I didn't like myself, I dressed in black tent-like garments in an attempt to hide my girth, and I was angry. Very angry. Angry because I looked so awful and angry at the forces around me that made me feel so miserable that I kept eating and allowed my petite frame to balloon up to almost 150 pounds.
Mr. Ford's weight works in tandem with his self-esteem that drives his behaviour, and this explains a lot. Let's take wardrobe for example. It feels good to wear clothes that fit well and look good and are appropriate to what we'll be doing that day. Mr. Ford understands that a suit is appropriate for his job at city hall but he doesn't look comfortable wearing one. Instead of a suit, there have been days when he's decided to wear a football jersey to council meetings, symbolically thumbing of his nose at the civic proceedings and everyone present. That's anger speaking.
Then there is the monumental amount of stress that he's under.
Political opinions aside, if I ran a city where half the residents hated my guts and I was constantly ridiculed by local, national, and international media, I too would be reaching for something to soften to the blow, so I can't blame Mr. Ford for using substances to buffer his reality.
However as a husband, a father, and the mayor of Canada's largest city, he must be responsible and clear-headed. If taking various substances is the only way he knows how to feel better, Mr. Ford needs to see the alternatives and he needs to give them a chance. Most importantly, he needs to see himself in a positive light so he can make positive choices to make himself happy instead of reaching for weapons of self-destruction.
Thinking of Ford as a fellow human being with all of that personal and political weight pressing down on him and exercising our empathy, how could we help him? How could we help him feel better about himself so he does a better job for our city?
As hard as it may be for some of us to swallow, we could try to lose the blame and the judgement and throw him some slack. Why? When people treat us well, the better we feel, and the better we feel, the better we behave.
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