An Exceptional Person

With expenditures projected at $5,800,000,000 the 2012 presidential and congressional elections will be the most expensive on record, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Campaign strategists estimate that 80% of the money spent is wasted, but the 20% which does hit its mark somehow does so through a public which has historically proven to be deeply cynical about political advertising.

It’s hard to see the substance through all the mudslinging and calculated cheering for American exceptionalism.

I started reading Candace Millard’s book on James A. Garfield’s unbidden rise to the Presidency of the United States last evening and I must confess I had to force myself to put it down long enough to write this post. Garfield is relatively unknown today, perhaps because his Presidency was cut short by an assassin, but his story bears retelling.

To make a long story short, Garfield detested the self-promotion so common in politicians in his time. He took the opposite approach and never sought public office, instead, it eventually and repeatedly sought him.

The most dramatic instance of this occurred during the 1880 Republican National Convention. Garfield was in attendance and gave an unprepared, albeit brilliant speech introducing one of the candidates that turned the tide of the convention and set in motion a wave that eventually – and against his personal preference – carried him to the White House.

On the second ballot, a Pennsylvania delegate named W.A. Grier cast a vote for James Garfield. His support stayed at one for a number of ballots thereafter, but on the thirty-sixth ballot Garfield won – to his personal astonishment – the Republican nomination with 399 votes.

Garfield went on to lead the first front porch campaign for the Presidency, an approach to stumping which stands in sharp contrast to the current election process. His reluctance to promote himself, coupled with his courageous willingness to stand by his own convictions, made him a truly exceptional person.

I have always said that my whole public life was an experiment to determine whether an intelligent people would sustain a man in acting sensibly on each proposition that arose, and in doing nothing for mere show or demagogical effect.” – James A. Garfield

Character of the Happy Warrior

Character development is a deeply personal matter. Others can provide guidance and go a long way in setting the conditions conducive to healthy development, but at the end of the day your character is built in the little choices you make from moment to moment.

Character is not built overnight and it does not come automatically by virtue of your station in life. It must be fought for, won honestly by open means as you labor with head and hand while guided by your inner light.

As you venture forth today and in the precious hours of your tomorrows, never abandon reason and always meet that which comes your way honestly and courageously. Do this and you, too, will soon possess the character of the happy warrior.

Character of the Happy Warrior by William Wordsworth

Who is the happy Warrior? Who is he
What every man in arms should wish to be?
–It is the generous Spirit, who, when brought
Among the tasks of real life, hath wrought
Upon the plan that pleased his childish thought:
Whose high endeavours are an inward light
That makes the path before him always bright:
Who, with a natural instinct to discern
What knowledge can perform, is diligent to learn;
Abides by this resolve, and stops not there,
But makes his moral being his prime care;
Who, doomed to go in company with Pain,
And Fear, and Bloodshed, miserable train!
Turns his necessity to glorious gain;
In face of these doth exercise a power
Which is our human nature’s highest dower;
Controls them and subdues, transmutes, bereaves
Of their bad influence, and their good receives:
By objects, which might force the soul to abate
Her feeling, rendered more compassionate;
Is placable–because occasions rise
So often that demand such sacrifice;
More skilful in self-knowledge, even more pure,
As tempted more; more able to endure,
As more exposed to suffering and distress;
Thence, also, more alive to tenderness.
–‘Tis he whose law is reason; who depends
Upon that law as on the best of friends;
Whence, in a state where men are tempted still
To evil for a guard against worse ill,
And what in quality or act is best
Doth seldom on a right foundation rest,
He labours good on good to fix, and owes
To virtue every triumph that he knows:
–Who, if he rise to station of command,
Rises by open means; and there will stand
On honourable terms, or else retire,
And in himself possess his own desire;
Who comprehends his trust, and to the same
Keeps faithful with a singleness of aim;
And therefore does not stoop, nor lie in wait
For wealth, or honours, or for worldly state;
Whom they must follow; on whose head must fall,
Like showers of manna, if they come at all:
Whose power shed round him in the common strife,
Or mild concerns of ordinary life,
A constant influence, a peculiar grace;
But who, if he be called upon to face
Some awful moment to which Heaven has joined
Great issues, good or bad for human-kind,
Is happy as a Lover; and attired
With sudden brightness, like a Man inspired;
And, through the heat of conflict, keeps the law
In calmness made, and sees what he foresaw:
Or if an unexpected call succeed,
Come when it will, is equal to the need:
–He who, though thus endued as with a sense
And faculty for storm and turbulence,
Is yet a Soul whose master-bias leans
To homefelt pleasures and to gentle scenes;
Sweet images! which, wheresoe’er he be,
Are at his heart; and such fidelity
It is his darling passion to approve;
More brave for this, that he hath much to love:–
‘Tis, finally, the Man, who, lifted high,
Conspicuous object in a Nation’s eye,
Or left unthought-of in obscurity,–
Who, with a toward or untoward lot,
Prosperous or adverse, to his wish or not,
Plays, in the many games of life, that one
Where what he most doth value must be won;
Whom neither shape of danger can dismay,
Nor thought of tender happiness betray;
Who, not content that former worth stand fast,
Looks forward, persevering to the last,
From well to better, daily self-surpast:
Who, whether praise of him must walk the earth
For ever, and to noble deeds give birth,
Or he must fall to sleep without his fame,
And leave a dead unprofitable name,
Finds comfort in himself and in his cause;
And, while the mortal mist is gathering, draws
His breath in confidence of Heaven’s applause:
This is the happy Warrior; this is he
Whom every Man in arms should wish to be.

A Successful Life

I want to see you game, boys, I want to see you brave and manly, and I also want to see you gentle and tender. Be practical as well as generous in your ideals. Keep your eyes on the stars and keep your feet on the ground. Courage, hard work, self-mastery, and intelligent effort are all essential to successful life. Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike.” – Theodore Roosevelt

I count the opportunity to raise my boys, to encourage them into manhood, as one of my greatest privileges in life. We have succeeded as parents, and as a generation, if we hand over a world which has increased because of our stewardship. Conversely, we have failed if the world is diminished as a result of our presence and influence.

Roosevelt’s notion of the “strenuous life” is one which appeals to me immensely. Nowadays we might say “live hard and play hard,” but so saying draws an unhelpful distinction between work and play. Life is one thing. To live it strenuously, you must be willing to accept the challenge that life brings in every area of your living.

By this I do not mean that you have to try harder to overcome lethargy, bad habits or areas of personal weakness, in fact, I think we have the problems we have as individuals and as a nation because of all this trying, which is simply a manifestation of working harder and not smarter.

Life is inherently intelligent, coordinated and forever burgeoning. The key to building character rapidly, efficiently and sustainably is found in learning to let the stuff of life flow more freely through you in a particular area of function. In other words, you need to learn to let better and while giving up the arduous and often painful attempt to try harder.

We as a species have grown to be distrustful of life, despite its constant efforts to keep us in business. Life will come through if you yield to it, if you turn your back once and for all on the desperate attempts to control it. Life is trustworthy. Character flaws are nothing more than restrictions in the normal flow of life. Once the flow is restored, so too is the quality of character which naturally clothes that phase of life expression.

The Iron Qualities

We need the iron qualities that go with true manhood. We need the positive virtues of resolution, of courage, of indomitable will, of power to do without shrinking the rough work that must always be done.” – Theodore Roosevelt

One of the crying needs in the world today is for men who know how to be men. True manhood is not chauvinistic, neither does it require an exaggerated swagger. It is both humble and self-assured, respectful yet firm, protective yet not overbearing.

True men never lend their capacities to hatred or any of its derivatives. True men are always motivated by and centered in love and as such, their presence and expression tends to intensify all that thy touch.

Love, in this sense, complements that which is consistent with its nature and draws the line relative to that which is not. Like a father teaching his son resolution, courage and the willingness to do the rough work, love compels the highest and finest while putting appropriate pressure on that which is no longer fitting.

Every Man

Have the courage to say no. Have the courage to face the truth. Have the courage to do the right thing because it is right.” – W. Clement Stone

You no doubt have skills and talents that differentiate you from your fellows, but if you have not yet mastered the three abilities outlined above, it is unlikely that your life will ever amount to much.

Every man has his purpose in life. Every woman hers. You have a purpose, but you cannot come to terms with that purpose if you lack the courage to say no, to face the truth or to do the right thing because it is right. If you have not yet made the acquaintance of your purpose, stop where you are and take a stand in relation to one of the three faces of courage described here.

So doing opens the channels, that is, clears the way for purposeful, meaningful and valuable living.

Mental Blocks

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face…do the thing you think you cannot do.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

While there is a world of difference between your actual limitations and limitations you’ve accepted for yourself that don’t really exist, the two are identical until you’ve overcome the latter. It may be easy for another to discern which is which, particularly if they have transcended that limitation in their own experience, but so long as you have not broken through to the other side of the limitation it will be as real as any brick wall that stands in your path.

Most of the false limitations we hold are mental or emotional blocks, self-imposed glass ceilings that are hinged to our experience by fear. The fear takes on many forms – fear of failure, fear of success, fear of humiliation and so on – but it is made of the same stuff regardless of its flavor.

It’s easy to psych yourself out of a personal victory, to over-think something that requires not thinking, but action. Your mind is a marvelous thing, but if you’re not careful, it’s easy to get in the habit of over-analyzing to the point that any deliberating becomes debilitating. Yes, we need to think, but when it comes to areas of chronic weakness or limitation, sometimes it’s best to act first and think later. More often than not the thinking you will do after the fact will likely focus on how incredibly easy it was.

Pulling on Both Oars

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” ~ e.e. cummings

Rare is the person who is authentic. Almost every man strains to give the appearance of qualities and a temperament which he does not possess, all in an effort to gain the approbation of others he feels he needs to be himself.

The logic is circular. So too is the experience. Rather than moving onward and upward from day to day, those who are not themselves are condemned to circle and re-encounter their own wake, like a man in a rowboat pulling on just one oar.

When you become who you are life ceases to become repetitive. Your every expression is unique and your influence makes all things new. You begin to pull on both oars and your movement is progressive, purposeful and consistent. You no longer seek or need the approval of others, not from disdain or arrogance, but from the confidence that comes only when you are truly being yourself.