What Today's Politicians Can Learn From Jefferson and Adams

03/01/2011 05:52 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Is it possible for polar opposite political ideologies to collaborate on anything?

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams managed to do it.

Jefferson, whom most view as a liberal, and Adams, considered by most historians to be a conservative, were the two men primarily responsible for writing and presenting the Declaration of Independence.

Espousing seemingly competing ideals -- ideals that many suggest represent the roots of this country's liberal versus conservative debates -- Jefferson and Adams came together in a shining moment to create something that was bigger than either of them could have envisioned alone.

Jefferson, an advocate for freedom of thought, and Adams, a staunch believer in the rule of law, were unlikely allies.

Some believe that America would better off if only one voice had prevailed. Yet it was their very combination of differing ideals that made our nation great.

In the years that followed their collaboration on The Declaration of Independence, Jefferson and Adams' political differences frequently put them at odds, and for many years they were bitter rivals.

Did their differences make their lives easier? No, but they made our country better.

They continued their synergistic push/pull relationship even in death. In a you-can't-make-this-up-history-meets-divine-intervention moment, both men died on the same day, the fourth of July. Jefferson passed first and then Adams.

On July 4, 1826, exactly 50 years to the day from the birth of the country they founded, both men passed away without even knowing that their long-time co-creator and nemesis was facing his demise as well.

Popular history says that John Adams' last words were, "Jefferson survives."

Was he terrified of what might happen if he left the earth with Jefferson still on it? Or was he eager to greet his partner and frequent nemesis on the other side?

Perhaps both.

Perhaps, in the space between his last breath and his passing, John Adams saw the beauty of it all. He saw how the Universe had sent two stubborn idealists to the time and place the world needed them most. How their ideals and their love for their cause had conspired to create something amazing at a time when much of the world didn't even believe it was possible.

And perhaps he also saw how he had become a better person as a result of it.

If there is an afterlife, I imagine Mr. Adams and Mr. Jefferson in their breeches and hats, greeting each other with a hearty handshake saying, "Well done partner. Well done."

The path to greatness is forged by people who have the courage to collaborate with the other side.

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams loved their country too much to settle for simplistic either/or debates. They believed we deserved better than that.

I think we still do.

Excerpt from The Triangle of Truth: The Surprisingly Simple Secret To Resolving Conflicts Large and Small (Penguin 2010) by business strategist Lisa Earle McLeod, named a Top Five Business Book for Leaders by The Washington Post. Private citizens have created a Facebook Group to deliver a copy to every member of the House & Senate.