Duty-First

The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, peace-at-any-price, safety-first instead of duty-first, the love of soft living, and the get-rich-quick theory of life.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Call it a midwestern bias, but to my mind the most important quality of the American spirit is the notion of “duty-first.” Moreover, the degree to which an individual embraces “duty-first” in his living is perhaps one of the greatest predictors of long-term success in his public and private life.

No matter where you are on the spectrum which spans duty-first and self-first, you can take steps now to ensure that your life serves to magnify and perpetuate all that is wonderful and true of your country. The formula is quite simple: do something today that you need to do but don’t want to do.

Once that becomes secondhand, take the next step: relinquish the temptation to judge that which you have to do. Judgment compromises your ability to do the right thing because it is the right thing to do, furthermore, it impairs your ability to discharge your primary duty: the ability to seek after and investigate the truth.

Duty is the price of living righteously, fulfillment is its wages.

 

 

All for Each and Each for All

“All for each and each for all, but only on condition that each works with might and main to so maintain himself as not to be a burden to others.” – Theodore Roosevelt

These high principles of which we are aware are attainable. They are not an idealistic sham designed to draw men hopelessly up from the nasty, brutish and short life which rules in the absence of aspiration, rather, they are the tangible evidence of the invincible essence of our higher nature.

I am convinced that our higher nature is not the product of civilization. Our higher nature is intrinsic to our very being, if not to the particularized focus of the current of life which animates all humanity. As such, it need not be cultivated, but set free.

Humanity progresses by leaps and bounds when these high principles find expression through the minds, hearts and hands of men. Great civilizations rise quickly, fortunes are amassed and peace and prosperity are known whenever these virile principles are planted lovingly in the fecund field of circumstance for which we are presently responsible.

This cannot be done perfunctorily, it must be done with all the vim and vigor we can muster.

So let it 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.

It’s not the critic who counts

It behooves every man to remember that the work of the critic is of altogether secondary importance, and that, in the end, progress is accomplished by the man who does things.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt

I realized a number of years ago that any time you spend as a critic is time that could have been otherwise put to productive use.

Constructive criticism and critiques offered with the genuine intent of helping another overcome obstacles can improve the world, but whiny rants with no other intent than to denigrate or vilify have neither purpose nor value.

If you wouldn’t write and and sign it, then don’t say it.

A True Lady or Gentleman

I am inclined to agree more with Theodore Roosevelt’s assessment that courtesy is “as much a mark of a gentleman” than with Honore de Balzac’s less encouraging assessment of courtesy being “only a thin veneer on the general selfishness.” While the latter may be more predominantly the case, the former holds in it the promise of a brighter future, where the entropic nature of human nature is overcome by specific and deliberate action.

We are not slaves to human nature, although we are born into a world ruled by it. It is generally assumed that you must struggle to free yourself from the chains of human nature, that somehow through human intelligence it can be annihilated, but it is soon revealed to those who attempt to overcome on this basis that struggling only reinforces subjection to, as with a Chinese finger puzzle.

You cannot fear something so much that you eventually gain freedom from it. Likewise, you cannot hate something so much that you eventually are released from its grasp on you. Fear and hatred bind you to the subject of your antipathy. You inevitably move in the direction of your emotional response.

A true lady or gentleman recognizes that fear and hatred are never creative motivations. Both are survival instincts, developed over generations of living in a world that has come under the dominion of human nature, but neither are natural. They serve as a default mechanism for dealing with an often confusing and twisted world, yet in a truly refined lady or gentleman such defaults are never employed as a first line of defense let alone pulled out as a last resort. They are dropped from the vocabulary of “Being” altogether.

Men and women have marveled at the apparent power and seeming invincibility of human nature for centuries, if not eons. Human nature is the great and mighty usurper and those who would dare face it in battle face not so much a formidable foe, but a weak and petty taskmaster who has amassed billions of followers through the years. Its adherents are Christian, Muslim, Agnostic and atheist, in fact, the great god of human nature has little concern for distinctions which has caused its congregation so much grief, such as nationality, race, sex, color or creed. In fact, it welcomes the divisions, for ironically the more divided its congregants are, the more united its congregation is.

The more we fight, the more we argue, the more we disdain, accuse and condemn, the more we play into the hands of human nature. The less we do so, that is, the more we discover common ground, the more we approach one another with an underlying pattern of respect, the more we employ genuine courtesy with one another, the closer we become to one another and to the truth itself.

The truth is never in conflict with itself, therefore if humanity is aligned with the truth it is no longer in conflict with itself. “A tall order,” you might say, to which I reply “the truth eventually prevails.” So, why drag it out? Why not let it be the case in our living? Why not redirect the sense of awe we’ve held for human nature’s beastliness into a pattern of response that moves us in a completely different – more productive and more sensible! – direction?

The choice, ladies and gentleman, is yours. I can point to it. I can describe it in as many ways as I know how. I can implore you, but at the end of the day, the decision as to what you will dedicate your life to rests squarely in your hands.

What will it be?