I was torn between sharing the wisdom of the original American sage- Ben Franklin; or someone you may never have heard of.
Since it’s so easy to access the wisdom of Franklin, and in the spirit of the coming 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg- I’m going to introduce you to a neighbor of mine-
Joshua L. Chamberlain.
“Let me say no danger and no hardship ever makes me wish to get back to that college life again.”
Let me explain this one…
Chamberlain was immortalized in the movie “Gettysburg” as the “Hero of Little Round Top.” Among historical types, it’s a matter of debate as to whether or not his actions and those of the 20th Maine actually saved the Union from defeat, but no worries- the man deserves our admiration.
Chamberlain was a professor at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine- about a half-mile up the hill from where I’m sitting right now.
In those days, one could petition for a military commission with absolutely no prior experience or training. Most of these politically appointed officers were simply trying to gain stature or they felt themselves societally superior to the average soldier.
Not Chamberlain- he sincerely felt a higher calling to serve and he took his job seriously!
What I admire most about Chamberlain is that he is, to me, the iconic model of the never-ending process of self-perfection. If you look up “Student” (capitalization intentional) in the dictionary, his picture should be there.
Once appointed, he absorbed everything available about military tactics and leadership. Very quickly, he became one of the most effective and dynamic officers of the Civil War.
When he left for the war, he left behind a life of some promise and security- and a wife who was not shy to remind him of that fact!
Still, he embraced his new career and could not imagine returning to what he saw as a life too ordinary.
“But the cause for which we fought was higher; our thought wider… That thought was our power.”
And that’s the genuine power of believing in a cause.
Of course Chamberlain is referring here to what he perceived as the advantage the Union Army had over the brave fighting men of the Confederacy.
What were the Confederate soldiers truly fighting for? Despite the whitewashed version in your grade school textbooks, most soldiers of the South were not fighting to preserve slavery. Most of the men in the ranks were common people who didn’t own slaves.
Also despite the historic debate, many who fought on the Federal side did sincerely believe that they were fighting for freedom- and to preserve the ideal of a United States of America.
No matter what your calling, you’re always going to work harder, endure more suffering and persevere through adversity if you have a genuine cause.
“We fought no better, perhaps, than they. We exhibited, perhaps, no higher individual qualities.”
Respect for one’s enemy is not only noble- it’s essential.
Without respect for your enemy, the tendency is to underestimate his quality and inflate your own.
Visit Appomattox Court House in Virginia and you’ll see the actual location where Lee surrendered to Grant, effectively ending the Civil War. In the tradition of the day, the defeated Confederate troops were to pass in review to surrender their weapons.
Chamberlain was appointed to oversee this ritual.
Instead of humiliating the Confederates, Chamberlain did something that could have easily earned him a court martial in those days…
…he touched his sword to his boot- a recognized salute and gesture of honor.
This salute quickly spread through the ranks and instead of attracting a reproach from his superiors, Chamberlain’s actions served as a profound gesture of reconciliation and earned him respect and admiration from both sides.
How you treat your enemy today will be remembered by your neighbor tomorrow- or by your potential customer or business collaborator!
And here’s your bonus for this installment…
I’m sick to death of the seemingly endless litany of corruption, lies, deceit and complete lack of personal responsibility in leadership today.
Today’s so-called leaders would benefit greatly by the example of the 3 wise men I shared with you this week. Most of all- to study the leaders of the past and learn from them.
We’ve got to get back to some sense of higher purpose. We’ve got to look past the quick profit and the short term gain and start looking once again toward building a sustainable future…
…one based on lasting values.
Then maybe once again…
“…we can hold our spirits and our bodies so pure and high, we may cherish such thoughts and such ideals, and dream such dreams of lofty purpose, that we can determine and know what manner of men we will be, whenever and wherever the hour strikes and calls to noble action.”
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