When the five living presidents met last week to dedicate the Bush Presidential Library, President Bill Clinton gave us pause to think about how leaders need to think and act.
"A couple of times a year in his second term George (Bush) would call me just to talk politics," said Clinton.
Do you think they argued when they chatted about politics? Of course, we don't know, but given that they come from pretty different political philosophies, it's likely they verbally "crossed swords" on those calls a few times, but it's evident that they weren't disagreeable.
Certainly, George W. could have called his father, the other President Bush, to get the opinion of an ex-president. He could also have called on any number of his own advisers to get an expert opinion.
So why did Bush repeatedly call Clinton? I think Bush and Clinton found a way to disagree without being disagreeable, and President Bush recognized that hashing his thoughts and arguments out with President Clinton would actually sharpen his own ideas.
Bush respected Clinton enough to call, and Clinton respected Bush enough not only to take the call, but fondly remember it at the Bush Library dedication. I think that respect is born out of both presidents recognizing they had far more in common than their disagreements.
Both men deeply believed in the American democratic system, and want the best for their country. And both knew that their ideas and the country could be improved by airing it out.
There's much to be learned from this little anecdote about dialogue, disagreement, and respect. The four key elements are character, common vision, communication, and caring -- The four C's, or the four stars of conflict resolution.
Our grand experiment of America can't last long in gridlock. We're going to have to get to a point where you can have an opinion, and I can have an opinion, and we can argue the merits of each viewpoint without being disrespectful.
It's long been my hope that we could mentor our young people in this skill of resolving conflicts through civil discourse, rather than civil discord. To disagree respectfully, to listen actively, and to understand both sides of issues we all face as a nation.
I've tried to do this with the annual Four Star Leadership Program. For the last five summers, we have brought 50 of the brightest high school student leaders from around the country to Oklahoma Christian University. The students get briefings from authors and athletes, politicians, military leaders and business leaders. Then they write editorial-style opinions, and argue their points in debate competitions. They're encouraged to have strong opinions, but coached to use The Four C's to respect opinions of others, because the solution to any problem might be in your opponents' answer, or some combination of ideas.
The whole point is construction, rather than destruction.
Without dialogue there can never be a solution for a problem.
If you know of a high school student who has shown some signs of leadership in their young life, I encourage you to show them how to apply to Four Star Leadership today at http://fourstarleader.com.
But time grows short for this year's program: the deadline for application is May 15. But the initial application can be completed online at the website mentioned above.
The 50 selected students will receive an all-expenses paid experience of a lifetime. (This includes travel, room and board and program materials.) Participants will be eligible for thousands of dollars in scholarships.
If we succeed in our mission, tomorrow's America will have 50 of the finest leaders, who cannot only articulate their ideas, but use them to build a better America, rather than destroy their ideological opponents.
Gen. Tommy Franks is former commander in chief of U.S. Central Command, founder and mentor of the Four Star Leadership program and board member of the National Center for Policy Analysis.