There is a fine line between realism and pessimism, between facing a situation with courage or facing a situation with gloom. I know as well as anyone else that things are difficult. Our family has already been directly and badly hit by D.C. policies.
Our heritage as Americans is one of resolve and fortitude and perseverance in the face of all odds. It is one of advancing when we can and holding ground when we must.
Earlier this year Hot Air linked to an article by Thomas L. Friedman that discussed the demise of leadership, Are We Home Alone? I want to focus in on one quote from his opinion editorial: (My emphasis in all of the quotes below).
“There is nothing more powerful than inspirational leadership that unleashes principled behavior for a great cause,” said Dov Seidman, the C.E.O. of LRN, which helps companies build ethical cultures, and the author of the book “How.” What makes a company or a government “sustainable,” he added, is not when it adds more coercive rules and regulations to control behaviors. “It is when its employees or citizens are propelled by values and principles to do the right things, no matter how difficult the situation,” said Seidman. “Laws tell you what you can do. Values inspire in you what you should do. It’s a leader’s job to inspire in us those values.”
Leaders inspire by words and by example. Their values and principles have been inculcated within their minds and hearts and they hold fast to them. They may know moments of despair, but they continue on steadfastly. I think of Washington at Valley Forge and Churchill at the beginning of World War II. We forget as we look back on history that these men and others did not know the outcome when they persevered in the midst of an outlook that was bleak.
I have read, and I believe, that without Washington’s leadership of character our country would never have been born. The summer before Valley Forge, he wrote to Major General Philip Schuyler:
We should never despair, our Situation before has been unpromising and has changed for the better, so I trust, it will again. If new difficulties arise, we must only put forth New Exertions and proportion our Efforts to the exigency of the times.
Washington and his troops endured the winter of Valley Forge; the Rev. Nathaniel Randolph Snowden, an ordained Presbyterian minister, recorded these words from a Quaker named Potts:
‘There,’ said he, ‘laid the army of Washington. It was a most distressing time of ye war, and all were for giving up the Ship but that great and good man. In that woods pointing to a close in view, I heard a plaintive sound as, of a man at prayer. I tied my horse to a sapling & went quietly into the woods & to my astonishment I saw the great George Washington on his knees alone, with his sword on one side and his cocked hat on the other. He was at Prayer to the God of the Armies, beseeching to interpose with his Divine aid, as it was ye Crisis, & the cause of the country, of humanity & of the world.
‘Such a prayer I never heard from the lips of man. I left him alone praying.
Churchill’s first speech as Prime Minister on May 13, 1940, included these famous words:
He said to General Ismay:
“Poor people, poor people. They trust me, and I can give them nothing but disaster for quite a long time.”
Yet Churchill persevered and carried England by the force of his words, saying to the school boys at Harrow over a year later on October 29, 1941:
The ten months that have passed have seen very terrible catastrophic events in the world – ups and downs, misfortunes – but can anyone sitting here this afternoon, this October afternoon, not feel deeply thankful for what has happened in the time that has passed and for the very great improvement in the position of our country and of our home? Why, when I was here last time we were quite alone, desperately alone, and we had been so for five or six months…
Another lesson I think we may take, just throwing our minds back to our meeting here ten months ago and now, is that appearances are often very deceptive, and as Kipling well says, we must “…meet with Triumph and Disaster. And treat those two impostors just the same.
“You cannot tell from appearances how things will go…surely from this period of ten months this is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.
Going back to the history of our own country, M.E. Bradford in his book Original Intentions: On the Making and Ratification of the United States Constitution wrote that there were some “150 to 200 principal Founders of the Republic” (p. 88). Many contributed in both word and deed.
THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.
As Patrick Henry cried out “Give me liberty, or give me death!”
William Wirt, the biographer of Henry, says that when Henry took his seat, “no murmur of applause was heard. The effect was too deep. After the trance of a moment several members started from their seats. The cry to arms! seemed to quiver on every lip, and gleam from every eye. They became impatient of speech. Their souls were on fire for action.”
Where does this leave us?
First, we can be grateful to God for raising up leaders like Robert George and Sarah Palin. We can recognize and support their efforts as we examine and learn from their thinking and deeds. Will we agree with everything they may say or do? No, but the Founders had more than their share of disagreements, yet as they argued they worked together.
Second, we can also examine the values of those who would be our leaders and discern the smokescreen of rhetoric from the reality of character.
Third, we can look to our own character. What are your principles and from whence do you gain moral clarity and the courage to act for right and persevere? Do you have an anchor that holds in the midst of storm? Where do you find the power to continue even when you stand alone? I am a Christian and I consider it to be no coincidence that the overwhelming majority of our Founders would have been able to draw their principles and courage from their Christian faith. As Bradford wrote (ibid, pp. 88-89):
As I have come to know through my own work, the concept of the Framers as ordinary Christians, as members in good standing of the various Christian communions found in early America, is supported by the recorded patterns of their lives. What I propose in the way of a collective portrait draws upon evidence from the usually ignored 95 percent of that group—ignored because they are not precursors of the present dispensation in law, ethics, and public policy.
Fourth, consider your own area of influence and leadership. We all influence one another by word and deed. We may have only a small circle of influence or we may suddenly find ourselves in an arena that is larger than we ever imagined. Wherever we are, who you are is important. We will all have our moments of discouragement and even despair when we need the help of others, but what is the overall pattern and thrust of your days? Of your words? Of your deeds? The day of small things will only lead to the day of larger things, if we encourage and influence others to act rightly.
As Dov Seidman said:
“There is nothing more powerful than inspirational leadership that unleashes principled behavior for a great cause…What makes a… government “sustainable…. is when its…citizens are propelled by values and principles to do the right things, no matter how difficult the situation….Laws tell you what you can do. Values inspire in you what you should do. It’s a leader’s job to inspire in us those values.”
BE A LEADER!
Quotes: New York Times; Bartleby.com; The Independence Hall Association (ushistory.org); The Churchill Centre and Museum at the Cabinet War Rooms, London; M.E. Bradford, Original Intentions: On the Making and Ratification of the United States Constitution.