About Conversation Kindling

The purpose of this blog is to share stories, metaphors, quotes, songs, humor, etc. in hopes they'll be used to spark authentic and rewarding conversations about working and living fruitfully. There are at least three things you can gain by getting involved in these conversations. First, you'll discover new and important things about yourself through the process of thinking out loud. Second, you'll deepen your relationships with others who participate by swapping thoughts, feelings, and stories with them. Finally, you'll learn that robust dialogue centered on stories and experiences is the best way to build new knowledge and generate innovative answers to the questions that both life and work ask.

I write another blog called My Spare Brain. This is where I am "storing" ideas for use in future books, articles, blog posts, speeches, and workshops. There is little rhyme or reason for what I post there. I do this to encourage visitors to come as treasure hunters looking for new ways of seeing and thinking vs. researchers looking for new or better answers to questions they already know how to ask.

02 July 2010

God Bless the U.S.A.

On July 4, 1776, Congress approved the wording of the Declaration of Independence and started the United States of America on its steady march to becoming the greatest nation on Earth. This year we celebrate Independence Day for the 233rd time.

I see this holiday as a beacon that burns brightly once each year to remind us to open our hearts and give thanks to our Founding Fathers for building, christening, and launching this ship we call America, and to all those who have sacrificed so much to keep her safe and riding high for the nearly two and a half centuries since. And, the best way to thank them, I think, is to keep the spirit of America alive and well by studying her history - especially at the time of her founding - and relaying the stories and lessons learned to future generations.

Here is a story worth telling and remembering. It is a story about authentic leadership. In sharing it with you, I will paraphrase and quote from the second volume of George Washington in the American Revolution (1775-1873) by James Thomas Flexner.

On March 15, 1783, a large group of Continental Army officers, who had all served under George Washington met in Newburgh, New York, on the Hudson River. They were bitter because they had not been paid properly by Congress for years and because no provision had been made for their retirement. They were debating whether or not to overthrow Congress and establish a military dictatorship that would force Congress and the states to give them what they thought they had earned. Those in favor of the coup wanted Washington to lead them; some even tried to convince him to become the new American king.

Washington, though not scheduled to attend the meeting, showed up in the middle of their deliberations. As he spoke, he told them that while their cause was righteous and just, only bloodshed would result from an assertion of military power over civilian authority. He went on to tell them that he would help them in every way his ability and prestige would permit within the normal political context of Congress' authority over the military, but that he would not lead a military takeover of America. The officers listened politely and respectfully, but clearly were not willing to give in to his plea.

At that point, Washington pulled out a piece of paper - a note from a member of Congress telling the officers he was sympathetic with their plight and that he would do whatever he could to help them. He fumbled with the note and finally took out a pair of eyeglasses so he could read it. Most of the officers sitting in the room were shocked; very few knew he used them. Washington said:
"Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray, but almost blind in the service of my country."
He then read the short statement from the member of Congress, and without any anti-climactic epilogue, he walked out of the meeting, mounted his horse, and rode back to his headquarters. Quoting Flexner:
"This simple statement achieved what all Washington's rhetoric and all his argument had been unable to achieve. The officers were instantly in tears, and ... their eyes looked with love at the commander who had led them all so far and so long."
The push for military takeover vanished and the officers drafted a new address to Congress expressing a willingness to trust the process that General Washington had outlined.

So, when all was said and done, it was not reason or logic that turned the tide and prevented a military coup, is was the love and affection a group of soldiers had for their leader.

At the end of the story, Flexner says:
"Americans can never be adequately grateful that George Washington possessed the power and the will to intervene effectively in what may well have been the most dangerous hour the United States has ever known."
  • What are your early memories of celebrating Independence Day? What did this holiday mean to your community? Your school? Your friends? Your family? You?
  • Is Independence Day either more or less important to you now as it was then? If so, what's changed and why?
  • How does being an American have personal meaning for you?
"And I'm proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free. And I won't forget the men who died, who gave that right to me." - Lee Greenwood
"You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness. If we fail, at least let our children and our children's children say of us we justified our brief moment here. We did all that could be done." - Ronald Reagan
"When an American says that he loves his country, he means not only that he loves the New England hills, the prairies glistening in the sun, the wide and rising plains, the great mountains, and the sea. He means that he loves an inner air, an inner light in which freedom lives and in which a man can draw the breath of self-respect." - Adlai Stevenson
"Our hearts where they rocked our cradle,
Our love where we spent our toil,
And our faith, and our hope, and our honor,
We pledge to our native soil.
God gave all men all earth to love,
But since our hearts are small,
Ordained for each one spot should prove
Beloved over all."
- Rudyard Kipling


Lee Greenwood, God Bless the U.S.A.

No comments: