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What We Can All Learn From Rob Ford's Passing

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ROB FORD 2014
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It's a tragic story. Former Toronto mayor, Rob Ford has died of cancer at age 46, leaving behind family, friends, colleagues, supporters and a whole lot of nay-sayers. A polarizing figure in Toronto politics, Ford was loved and reviled, possibly in equal measure.

When I think about Rob Ford, the words, "tragic anti-hero" and "missed opportunity" come to mind. The man had a chance to make the most of his tenure as mayor, but because of his many demons, it's safe to say that he wasted it.

Ford had so much support when he came into office, but he squandered the goodwill of the people with increasingly bizarre behaviour. He was plagued by addictions and a strong self-destructive streak, and limped out of office in a state of disgrace. Many wondered if his vices would be the death of him, but it was bad luck that got him in the end.

While he was mayor, Rob Ford put Toronto on the map, but not in a good way. On American TV, Ford and his shenanigans were the perfect foil for late-night satire. Torontonians cringed as we watched our mayor being lampooned by snarky talk-show hosts who took their best shots at him and our city, night after night.

rob ford jimmy kimmel

Rob Ford as a guest on 'Jimmy Kimmel Live'

Ford's politics were obscured by antics that made it impossible to identify a clear vision or direction. As his behaviour grew increasingly erratic, those around him began to strip him of authority, so that by the end of his term, the city was run by everyone but Mr. Ford.

While his hardcore fans in Ford Nation might still love him, the most memorable thing about Rob Ford was not his political accomplishments. Any good he might have done on that front was overshadowed by his outrageous extracurricular activities; if there was an opportunity to shine while serving in this role, he missed out on it.

When someone is presented with a platform such as being the leader of a world-class city like Toronto, they have the option to make the most of it or to squander the opportunity and sadly, Ford did the latter.

Perhaps the pressure of being such a high-profile public figure caused him to decompensate, as the addictions he had previously held at bay began to overtake him.

Perhaps the burden of being responsible for the care and maintenance of such a dynamic and complex city were too much for someone who was, at his core, a simple man.

After he stepped down as mayor, some of us hoped that Ford would have chosen to share with his constituents any insights into his struggles that he might have gained through soul-searching and quiet contemplation; perhaps in the form of a lecture, an article or even a book, if that wasn't too intellectual an undertaking for this man of the people.

It's... too bad... that Ford never got to fulfill his potential and be more than a caricature or an object of derision to all but the card-carrying members of Ford Nation.

Tragically, his focus instead shifted sharply toward survival when he was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer while campaigning for a second term as mayor.

For the past eighteen months, Ford fought a brave battle against his disease, but finally succumbed to it on March 22. His last year and a half was spent keeping a low profile as a city council member, while receiving a series of cancer treatments.

Ford was beloved because he was a regular guy. Ordinary citizens identified with him, and his story was inspirational, in the sense that regular people could see themselves in his shoes, possibly achieving something of importance in their own lives, one day.

rob ford fans

Ford surrounded by fans in Toronto, February 23, 2014.

Ford was a true anti-hero in that he was obese, boorish, often out of control of his impulses, and yet he never lost his large group of loyal fans. Sadly, he didn't have a chance to redeem himself in the eyes of the larger, more critical public.

I won't speculate as to the nature of Mr. Ford's personal demons. That's his private business. I only wish that he would have availed himself of the kind of help that could have healed his wounded heart and rendered him a more functional public servant and a more fully realized human being.

Because of the issues which plagued him, Mr. Ford was stymied in his role as mayor. Because of his inability to move beyond his demons while in office, his political legacy is more the stuff of late-night punditry than any meaningful contribution to society.

In my work as a therapist and coach, I help people to bounce back from challenges and adversity, so that they're able to be their best selves and live their very best lives. It seems quite clear that at least in the public arena, Rob Ford was not able to become his best self or live his best life.

In an article in the National Post by Richard Warnica, Ashley Csanady and Chris Selley, Ford's old friend and fellow city council member John Filion is quoted as saying that he saw Ford this past October, and that he looked "clearheaded and happy...like he hadn't in years."

In the same article, Filion expressed how he told Ford that he seemed "completely different," to which Ford replied, "Yeah, I am...I'm feeling great and ready to take on the world again and do it better than I did before." How tragic that Ford was never able to show the rest of us a new, improved version.

A cautionary tale about not wasting the wonderful opportunities provided to us in our lives, but rather, facing our own demons head-on so that they never prevent us from fulfilling our great potential.

In a touching tribute on The National, Rex Murphy shared that Ford was "one of the most remarkable ordinary people Toronto has ever produced," even though he "strained the loyalty he inspired."

Murphy went on to say that Ford "was reckless," "sometimes intemperate," and that "some of his comments jammed the radar of political correctness," but also that "he was more at ease, more natural and welcoming ... of Toronto's multicultural mix than many of its more ostentatious champions."

Murphy continued, saying that "Ford had one sublime virtue that all politicians should study and imitate: he did not think he was better than the people who voted for him."

Murphy summed up, saying that "Rob Ford, for all the controversy, kept the line open with the common man," and that "in the words of (Abraham) Lincoln, Mr. Ford was of the people, by the people, for the people, with a vengeance."

Murphy ended with, "It's very sad to see this decent man, so wonderfully gifted emotionally and likewise so burdened, die in mid-life before we knew the all of him."

I agree. It's really too bad for everyone that Ford never got to fulfill his potential and be more than a caricature or an object of derision to all but the card-carrying members of Ford Nation.

To Mr. Ford's loved ones, I offer my deepest condolences. To everyone else, I suggest that we see his story as a cautionary tale about not wasting the wonderful opportunities provided to us in our lives, but rather, facing our own demons head-on so that they never prevent us from fulfilling our great potential.

Sign up here for my free monthly wellness newsletter. April is all about becoming empowered in life.

And check out my new podcast series. In episode two I talk with filmmaker and activist Matthew McLaughlin about masculinity, authenticity, creativity and self-acceptance.

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