Thoughts on “A Message to Garcia”

As I read this essay, I noted when the author wrote: “And this incapacity for independent action, this moral stupidity, this infirmity of the will, this unwillingness to cheerfully catch hold and lift, are the things that put pure Socialism so far into the future.  The author appears to be complaining that human laziness and slovenliness isn’t what makes socialism such a threat in our future.  Instead, he appears to believe that human laziness and slovenliness is a threat to the ultimate triumph of socialism.  Further, he later wrote about a slovenly worker, “Tonight this man walks the streets looking for work, the wind whistling through his threadbare coat.  No one who knows him dare employ him, for he is a regular fire-brand of discontent.  He is impervious to reason, and the only thing that can impress him is the toe of a thick-soled No. 9 boot.   Of course I know that one so morally deformed is no less to be pitied than a physical cripple;… [My Italics.]”  This is a somewhat “bleeding heart” description of this worker’s moral infirmities.


These two passages made me wonder if the author of the essay, Elbert Hubbard, might have been a socialist.  A Wikepedia search on the man confirmed this.  He was a socialist, but one who migrated later in life to a defender of free enterprise.  My guess is that when Hubbard wrote this essay, he was in a state of transition from socialism to free enterprise.  The bloom has gone off the socialist rose, he faith was being tested, but he had not completely made the transition to capitalism and free enterprise.  It is interesting to me that a person in such a state would pen a conservative classic.


I have a problem with the following passage:  “The point I wish to make is this: McKinley gave Rowan a letter to be delivered to Garcia; Rowan took the letter and did not ask, ‘Where is he at?’  By the Eternal! there is a man whose form should be cast in deathless bronze and the statue placed in every college of the land.”  If I were Rowan, and McKinley or anyone else had given me a letter to give to Garcia, I would most certainly have asked “Where is he at?” if I did not know.  To manfully charge off to do a duty without knowing all that you can about it beforehand isn’t initiative, it is rank foolishness and wasted energy.  It may be intrepid and manly to hack a machete path from one end of Cuba to the other until you stumble upon Garcia, but if someone could have pointed you in the right direction by your simply asking, “Where is Garcia at?” you were completely derelict in your duty for not doing so.  McKinley may not have known, but surely he should have known who could give Rowan that information.  If no one knew, then Rowan should have been told that his job was both to find Garcia, and then deliver the letter.  That changes the nature of his mission considerably, and a good leader would make that distinction clear.


I also have a problem with some of the questions that Hubbard thinks a hypothetical clerk shouldn’t ask before writing a memorandum on Correggio:


Who was he?”  – Maybe that’s a poor question, if you’re coming up on a deadline, maybe not.  It sounds like a healthy curiosity, which maybe you’d like in an employee.  Maybe if you tell him, he’ll have a head start on where to start researching.  Wasted effort avoided, once again.


“Which encyclopedia?”  – Okay, that’s probably one a good clerk should figure out for himself.


“Where is the encyclopedia?”  – If the clerk was just hired last Tuesday, he may not know yet.  It seems like an eminently practical question if that is the case, and he may have just saved you and himself a lot of time in asking it.  Presumably, that’s a good thing.


“Was I hired for that?”  – Maybe he was or wasn’t.  If his duties are piling up and he doesn’t see an increase in compensation or appreciation, and Charlie (see below) is twiddling his thumbs in the corner for the same salary, that question may be an indication that all’s not well in the business and how it’s being run.  If he isn’t asking you that, but is only thinking that to himself, he may be looking for a better opportunity, and you may find yourself looking for a new clerk.


“Don’t you mean Bismarck?”  – Do you want an automaton or a thinking employee who takes an active interest in the business?  Maybe you did mean Bismark, and he may have just saved you a lot of wasted time and effort.


“What’s the matter with Charlie doing it?”  – There are many businesses with Charlies sitting in the corner doing nothing.  If the clerk is resenting that, he may up and quit.  Not to walk the streets penniless, but to a rival publishing house where he’s treated with respect, his questions aren’t summarily dismissed, and dead weight doesn’t sit around while he’s expected to carry all the work with no appreciation for the same salary as Charlie’s.  Or he may quit to start a new publishing house of his own.  In which case, you might have done better explaining more to him, and dismissing him less, and helping him rise in your own publishing house, making him a business asset, rather than a business rival.


“Is he dead?”  – I don’t know, but maybe he’s just saved you and himself a lot of time once again with a simple question that tells him which shelf in the library to start on.


“Is there any hurry?”  – Does the clerk have 20 other tasks pending?  It may be a very reasonable question that helps him prioritize what he has to do.


Hubbard’s list of inane questions makes me question whether I’d want to work for him.  He doesn’t seem to want employees with a healthy interest in the business.  Rather, his essay makes me suspect that he wants employees who go and do their task without any questions at all, even useful ones.  He doesn’t want curious employees.  Maybe if he spent more time bringing employees into the business, letting them know why they’re doing things, why those things are important, and making sure people who do twice Charlie’s workload get twice Charlie’s pay, he have a more enthusiastic, loyal, industrious staff, and his publishing house would be flourishing better.


It’s interesting this essay became standard reading in the Russian and Japanese armies.  Neither army or nation was known for its initiative, or respect for the individual.



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