Teddy Roosevelt on Courage

“A soft, easy life is not worth living, if it impairs the fibre of brain and heart and muscle. We must dare to be great; and we must realize that greatness is the fruit of toil and sacrifice and high courage… For us is the life of action, of strenuous performance of duty; let us live in the harness, striving mightily; let us rather run the risk of wearing out than rusting out.”

(Theodore Roosevelt)

 

Suggested Resources:

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (Edmund Morris)

The Strenuous Life: Essays and Addresses (Theodore Roosevelt)

 

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Scott Peck on Solving Problems and Growing

The Road Less Traveled

“It is in the whole process of meeting and solving problems that life has meaning. Problems are the cutting edge that distinguishes between success and failure. Problems call forth our courage and our wisdom; indeed, they create our courage and our wisdom. It is only because of problems that we grow mentally and spiritually. It is through the pain of confronting and resolving problems that we learn.” (M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled)

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Feel the Fear (and Do It Anyway)

I grew up in the country, working and playing on farms.  There’s scarcely anything more adventurous for a kid than the things he can find to do on a large dairy farm.  Climbing silos.  Throwing apples at passing cars.  Pitching manure and playing in it.  Some of it was permitted.  A lot of it was not and we got yelled at from time to time.  But it was great fun.

When you are young, you don’t always use your head.  Some of our exploits involved jumping out of hay mows and walking on really high beams above cattle, mangers and bales of hay and straw.  I have to admit I got anxious at times.

The key to doing these things—which were quite scary for a boy—was simply doing them.  If you sat at the edge of the mow or straddled a beam and thought about it, your courage would flag and you wouldn’t take the chance.  A victory for brains; a defeat for derring-do.  (We were young and dumb, so daredevilry usually won the day.)

Our heroes in those days were people like Evel Knievel and Billy Jack.  One can understand why.

In 1988, a book appeared with the provocative title Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway.

Feel it….but then do it.

Jack Canfield has referred to this book and the principle it highlights.  I’ve adopted the idea with good results.

We all face fears and anxieties over different things.  For some it’s flying.  For others, public speaking.  Most of us shy away from difficult conversations, whether in sales or conflict resolution.  The key is to own the fact that you feel the emotion of fear but decide to do the thing you fear anyway.  And then do it.  Fear is, after all, a feeling.  It may have validity.  I have a good friend, a career Army guy who’s jumped out of a lot of planes.  There is real fear launching out of a C-130.  Good sense for a paratrooper is to make sure his parachute has been properly prepared.  But he still jumped.  Over and over and over again.

Most of us will not be leaping out of moving aircraft or tackling pythons.  But we can all grow by feeling it.  Then doing it.

It’s really simple.

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Fight On!

Life is many things to all of us.  Adventure.  Journey.  Wonder.

And battle.

One key to winning in life is to remind oneself that for every human being, life is often a great battlefield.  For America’s finest, it is the War on Terror.  For others, perhaps a conflict for something good and noble in the face of evil and tyranny.  For some of us, the war for ideas in the political, economic or ecclesiastical arenas.  And all of us, in one way or another, must fight daily for our hearts.

Discouragement is not the only foe that seeks to silence the heart of man.  Mediocrity ranks up there as well, as does failure.

Remember this: A Hall of Fame baseball player does well at bat only 35% of the time.  Failure is never fatal unless you agree to let it be.  Thomas Edison had hundreds of such failures before he perfected the incandescent light bulb.  President Abraham Lincoln suffered numerous defeats before ascending the halls of power in Congress and, ultimately, the White House.

You may have lost the skirmish but the war is not over.  Far from it.  Pick yourself up, dust your uniform and plunge into the battle once again.  These timeless words of Shakespeare will give you pluck and resolve.

KING HENRY V:
”Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o’erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O’erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill’d with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On, on, you noblest English.
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!
Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,
Have in these parts from morn till even fought
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument:
Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you call’d fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war. And you, good yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture; let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’”

Keep fighting, soldier.  People are depending on you.

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The Freak-Out Gene

A friend of mine got sick a few weeks ago.  In his 50’s, career Army retired.  1st Sergeant.  Ranger Battalion for 6 years.  A remarkable guy and dear to our family.  I work with one of his sons, who is a chip off the old block and a close friend as well.

When my friend got sick, I was concerned.  It was serious enough that it put a retired Army Ranger in the hospital for a few days.  I asked the son about the father and he said that, though worried, his dad didn’t show it.  The son, one of our managers, is pretty good under pressure.  Just like his dad.  When asked by one of our colleagues if he was a mess because of his dad being in the hospital, the son said, “I guess [like dad] I didn’t inherit the freak-out gene.”

Man, I’ve chewed on that one for a few weeks now. Why? Because I’ve not been great under pressure.  Candidly, I’ve been lousy in the clutch.  But the example of my even-keeled Irish buddies has been inspiring and convicting.

As I’ve thought about this, in the midst of a very busy and pressure-filled December, I realized that when stresses mount, one does not have to freak out.  Cave.  Bolt.  Come apart.  But I’m learning that a good deal of my responses to the tensions of life have to do with what I think about and tell myself.  Right thinking and talk are one of the secrets to poise, grace under pressure.

It’s that simple and that powerful.

To be sure, we all face things much larger than we are.  That overwhelm.  That can sink the boat of the ablest mariner.  But there is in our society entirely too much male drama and meltdown.  It’s an effeminate thing that insults the high call  and dignity of manhood.  Great military leaders in combat are as scared as those under them but they mask it and charge ahead.

What to do when stress comes?  Some hints:

  • Hit the gym rather than the bottle for relief.
  • Remind yourself that you are equal to the task and think positively.
  • Take a walk and reflect.  Often stresses overwhelm simply because we don’t take enough time to think through challenges and find creative solutions to meet them.
  • Pray.  And act.  Do both, not one or the other.
  • Ask yourself, “Will this matter in five days, five months or five years?” Perspective gives proper weight to problems.
  • Lead.  God help you, but whatever you do, stand up like a man and walk on.  You will astound people, because leaders are rare.

Postscript:  My friend is recovering nicely and preparing to walk the Appalachian Trail with his wife for their third time.  Incredible.

After Me!

Yonatan Netanyahu

The world was stunned on July 4, 1976 at the news of the incredible rescue of over one hundred Israeli hostages by members of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) at Entebbe, Uganda.

The hostages, mostly Israelis, and therefore Jewish, had been traveling from Tel Aviv to Athens aboard an Air France jetliner when their plane was hijacked by terrorists.  The flight was then diverted to Uganda where the terrorists were given haven by dictator Idi Amin.

A plan was put into action immediately in Israel to bring the hostages home safely.  At the head of the team to lead this effort was a 30-year-old soldier, Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu.  “Yoni” to family and friends.

A mockup of the Entebbe airport was assembled in the desert based on Mossad intelligence.  The raid—dubbed Operation Thunderbolt—was practiced over and over and over.  The clock was ticking.  And time was not on the side of the hostages.

In the IDF, the motto for military leaders is “after me!”  Leaders are the first to lead the way into danger and put themselves in harm’s way.  It was no different for the raid at Entebbe.

The operation was a resounding military success.  The terrorists holding the Israelis were killed and all but four of the 102 hostages survived.

But there was one other casualty.  Col. Netanyahu died leading the raid.  He took fire during the rescue.  This was not wholly unexpected.  He had at other times put himself in the jaws of death to care for his men and his people.  Netanyahu’s story is eloquently recounted in the book Self-Portrait of A Hero.

It is the nature of a leader that at times he (or she) will face danger.  Will stand alone.  Will lose approval or popularity.  But a leader does this because human beings matter and the stakes are very high, even eternal.  A leader doesn’t wait to have someone point the way.  He is the beacon.  True north.  The bedrock that people can stand on.

Stand up and lead.  More people are counting on you than you can possibly imagine.