Thursday, July 4, 2013
A Constancy of Purpose
With thanks for the inspiration of David Brooks coming from his recent article in The New York Times called Why They Fought.
150 years ago today America, not yet again the United States of America, woke up from a punch-drunk stupor caused by the concussive and convulsive blows of a battle on and around the rolling hills of a small town in Pennsylvania. The battle saw the high tide of the Confederacy crest and begin to recede, though a weary country would still face nearly 2 more years of bloody conflict. The battle was Gettysburg; to this day, the deadliest 3 days in American warfare.
Shelby Foote, a distinguished historian, would say that you cannot understand us as a nation without understanding the Civil War. And you cannot understand the Civil War without understanding Gettysburg. I have tried for years to do so having regularly visited and toured the battlefield since being a young boy. In 2002, I joined a number of corporate executives at Gettysburg for a training event modeled after a military protocol called an “after action” staff ride. The staff ride was used, in the past, to visit a battlefield to gain the insight of lessons learned from the conflict. The training event, sponsored by the Conference Board, was intended to create learning's from “battlefield to board-room” around important leadership principles. I reflect to this day on that learning experience in November of 2002 and was honored to have been able to read to our group President Lincoln’s address, in commemoration of the battle, on Veteran’s Day while visiting the Gettysburg cemetery.
Two of the points we discussed are as important then as today – command intent and constancy of purpose. Our news is filled today with our doubts about leadership, in both the public and private sector, and we learn from a recent Gallup Poll survey that 7 out of 10 workers have “checked out” at work or are actively disengaged.
We are reminded at the sesquicentennial of Gettysburg that 163,760 of our fellow citizens hurled themselves at each other for 3 days in pursuit of a vision, cause and purpose that would determine whether this nation would “long endure”. 45,687 fell or were wounded in response. In his 1997 book “For Cause and Comrades,” James M. McPherson notes that a consciousness of duty was pervasive in Victorian America. David Brooks states it in terms that there was probably also a greater covenantal consciousness, a belief, of the time, that our forebears were born in a state of indebtedness to an ongoing project, and they would inevitably be called upon to pay these debts, to come square with the country, even at the cost of their lives.
As we consider all of this today, in readying our cook-out and fireworks viewing plans, two points to close on regarding squaring our own covenantal consciousness. Leaders need to be transformational and must create conditions that others can believe in and follow and when we do follow, we must do so with both a commitment to a shared vision and a constancy of purpose to cause.
And so, in keeping with your faith, as you understand it, God bless America. And God bless those who stand the watch in defense of our national interests, civilian and military, and those who support them. May we be reminded in the midst of the pageant and pomp and parade that there is a price of admission to the land of the free and the home of the brave. That price is active citizenship, duty, diligence, honor and service.
Happy Independence Day.