“Time isn’t the main thing. It’s the only thing.” Jazz Great Miles Davis
Endless time seems to move so slowly as to drip like a leaky faucet, making every moment pregnant with ideas, some alerting our fears to endless possibilities.
Time has taken on new meaning, while simultaneously dropping away into nothingness as we struggle to answer a multitude of WHEN questions.
It has been barely two months since my family flew off to work in London and a month since their dog, my part-time companion, joined them. Sometimes it seems like it’s been six months. Naturally due to the pandemic’s quarantine, I wonder when I might see them again. Even now, a visit this summer is rapidly slipping off the plate, but I am coping by writing, exercising, and appreciating every sunny day.
WHEN? The Universal Question
We’ve all joined in questioning WHEN? When did life as we knew it screech to a halt? When won’t I depend on Zoom to see colleagues or Facetime for friends and relatives? When can I walk in the woods, go to the library, or gym, or get my hair cut, or leave home to hear any concert in person? When will I enjoy the aroma of cooking not my own? Far more important to more than 36 million Americans: When, if ever, will my job come back, so I can resume living without losing a place to live and be able to feed my family?
No matter where we sit politically, or whether we stand in the unemployment line, the food bank line, or the grocery line, stress rides along daily with each of us.
There are few universal answers to WHEN. Many are being made state by state or county by county. As of mid-May, 90,000 Americans have died from Covid-19 and 1.5 million tested positive, while 260,000 have recovered. This nationwide pandemic has only engendered more stress and fear and seems in some parts of the country to have widened the divide. But in some communities, people from a wide spectrum of political and religious beliefs are working together to feed the hungry unemployed and their children—taking action, which often lessens the feeling of helplessness and anxiety.
Recently I saw an article that sheds some light on this question:
“In Stressful Times, Make Stress Work for You,” by Karl Leibowitz and Alia Crum, which brings down to lay terms a study of the mindset of Navy SEALS, college students, and business leaders experiencing stress. They consider how to harness stress. Here are their three steps:
Acknowledge Your Stress
Seems by taking on stress we move the place it resides in our mind. Normally before we address our fear, it sits in the amygdala, the brain center for emotion. When we begin the acknowledge our stress, our thoughts move to the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This is where executive control and planning take place–where we can be more thoughtful and deliberate in our actions– where we can do something about it.
Have you ever tried to stop thinking less about something and instead your mind returns to it even more often? That is the “ironic mental processing” at work in the brain as we stress over something. According to the scientists, the brain tries to help us out by constantly checking in to see if we continue to think of it. Suppression does not work.
Now is where you need to determine what is at the heart of your personal stress or anxiety.
Are you most concerned about getting sick yourself? Or your mate or partner? Is it your children, their education or health? Are you worried about a loved one who is at high risk? Is your anxiety caused by balancing working from home and family responsibilities?
Once you determine this, then you can examine your reactions to these stressors. What emotions come with this? Frustration, sadness, anger? What do you notice in your body? Tight neck and shoulders or do you have difficulty sleeping?
Own Your Stress
Why welcome stress into your life during a pandemic? We only stress, really stress, about the things (and people) we really care about. By connecting to the stress, we identify what is at the core of our anxiety. By denying or trying to avoid our stress, we can do the opposite and avoid what is really important to us.
Difficult task? Try completing this sentence, “I am stressed about (list answer you gave in step one) because I deeply care about. . .”
Use Your Stress—Make it Work for You!
If you connect to the core values behind your stress, then you set yourself up for the most essential ingredient: using or leveraging stress to achieve your goals and connect more deeply with the things that matter most to you.
Are your typical responses aligned with the values behind your stress? Think how you could adapt your response to this stress to facilitate your goals and your responses. There is a lot happening that we cannot control, but there are also unprecedented opportunities amid the fear. It is a matter of connecting with people and materials at hand. Action will help you overcome your anxiety and begin to tackle fear of the unknown. Addressing the here and now. The trick is to channel your coronavirus stress as energy to make the most of this time. Difficult though it seems, if we fail to embrace our stress and utilize it, it will only grow. Take baby steps forward to tackle your anxiety.
On a personal note, much earlier in my life, I needed to learn coping skills after a difficult period. I developed a calm approach to crisis that helped me professionally and has stood by me for three decades. Sticking to our universal values, working to overcome fear and anxiety, we can develop stable solutions to serve us and the next generation.
Daniel Pink, When, the Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, (New York: Riverhead Books, 2018)
Karl Leibowitz and Alia Crum, Stanford University, “In Stressful Times, Make Stress Work for You,” New York Times, April 1, 2020
Alia J. Crum and Peter Salovey, “Rethinking Stress: The Role of Mindsets in Determining the Stress Response,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2013, Vol. 104, No. 4, 716-733
A classic tenant of crisis management for savvy leaders. Even if your personal chipmunks are running a marathon in your stomach, when you have a team—whether its four classmates, a room full of colleagues, or all 328 million Americans—a time comes when it hits the fan, you set up your essential goal, put on your game face, hunker down, and pass out the assignments to the most qualified, most tested in the room. That makes it much easier to appear sweat less!
Establishing the Critical Goal
Leading a country and overseeing a military at war requires an intensely capable person. Lincoln wasn’t that person at the beginning of the Civil War, but he made it his business to catch up. Some say it took him until he hired U.S. Grant in March 1864, but Lincoln established his goal at the get-go. He did not waiver in his belief that preserving the Union was his prime responsibility. Everything else came second, was collateral damage, or would be a tool to accomplish this goal.
Lincoln preferred to focus on the essential foe and not push a blanket plan to prohibit slavery as he prepared the Emancipation Proclamation. He battled flames in front of him on the battlefield and saw significant matters smoldering behind him, threatening to ignite the abolitionists and the opposition Copperheads at his rear. This messy political stew revealed the alchemy he brewed while working to weave the nation together and draw his critics apart. Developing the persuasive mixture eluded him as his supporters began to lose faith that Lincoln could manage the broth before the wildfire consumed him.
Jousting with Journalists
Being a writer himself who appreciated a turn of phrase, Lincoln enjoyed mixing it up with journalists. Due to his seemingly “rustic” communications skills and quick mind hidden beneath a slow delivery, he could be waiting for reporters’ questions twenty steps ahead of them and have a fitting quip ready. Today wrangling with the media is a required sport for office holders, particularly if they seek or have achieved higher office. Disarming humor, not used as a spear but as a reminder of shared humanity, seems to have nearly disappeared with an earlier generation (think Ronald Reagan, who often appeared with a smile to friend or foe alike, or Barack Obama, who could flash a smile when he wasn’t preoccupied with a financial implosion).
Lincoln saw journalists as another branch of politics. (At the time 3,000, or three-fourths of the newspapers published in America, were supported by a political party). He worked to establish a mutual understanding with the big three of the day: James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald, Democratic, pro-slavery, against most of Lincoln’s stands; Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune, an abolitionist who had a love-hate relationship with the President, but got special treatment on several stories; and Henry Raymond of the New York Times, a Republican and formerly Greeley’s chief lieutenant, later founder of the New York Times in 1851.
Greeley, like Bennett. loved his role in journalism, but the two loathed each other, primarily for political reasons; A final Greeley-Raymond final split came when Raymond beat him to become New York’s Lieutenant Governor in 1854. Setting up the perfect storm between the three major newspaper editor’s Lincoln needed to cajole. In 1864 he helped engineer Lincoln’s 1864 re-nomination.
Disagreeing Without Being Disagreeable or Worse
Bennett came from the pro-Democratic Party, pro-slavery and against pretty much everything Lincoln valued, but Lincoln wooed him rather than pushing him away, most of the time. Lincoln walked a tightrope between Bennett and Greeley when he fed stories and news tips to Greeley, but at times the Tribune bit the hand that fed it, angering Lincoln.
In August 1862, Horace Greeley published “The Prayer of the Twenty Million,” a plea of the “Loyal Millions” requiring a “frank, declared, unqualified, ungrudging execution of the laws of the land.” Greeley wanted Lincoln to enforce the emancipating provisions of the Second Confiscation Act (July 17, 1862) removing slaves from the Confederate states. Greeley believed his readers had carried Lincoln to victory and “now feel that the triumph of the Union is dispensable not only to the existence of our country to the well-being of mankind.” They expected Lincoln to deliver on their request.
Lincoln responded on August 22, 1862 in the Daily National Intelligencer, a newspaper long a part of the Washington scene, founded by George Washington. Lincoln said he did not argue with what Greeley said, but reaffirmed his own chief goal to “save the Union and not either to save or to destroy slavery.” At the very bottom of the letter, Lincoln affirmed: “I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere be free.”
Concerning the letter, historian David Herbert Donald pointed out Lincoln sought to assure the large majority of Northern people that he did not want to see the war transformed into a crusade for abolition, while offering himself time to contemplate further moves against slavery.
No doubt that Lincoln suffered at the hands of the press, but he also knew how to give as well as he got and used humor as honey to make the message go down a little easier. Yet he chastised a visitor to his office who pestered him for “one of his stories.” Lincoln noted his stories were not a “carnival act but were a useful way of directing discussion.” (Elihu B Washburne Chapter3 note 15)
Lincoln exercised patience, waiting for a victory, or close to it, to bolster his proclamation. He only freed the slaves in the states that were in Rebellion—the Confederacy, holding the freedom of slaves throughout the country for passage of the Thirteenth Amendment.
Who Was the Greater Martyr?
The question came up recently as to whether Lincoln or the current President were the greater “martyr” (poor word choice, given that one made the ultimate sacrifice) to the slings of the press. While the current President has a wide array of broadcast and digital media to pester him, Lincoln could only rely on the telegraph and the vital coast-to-coast postal system to send his lithograph—with his warts, wayward tie knotted under his collar, and an unruly mop of black hair—far and wide. His tired, sympathetic mug became fodder for frequent political cartoons that etched in the brains of the electorate.
Lincoln’s low key personality and friendships helped him take on the darts that were flung his way. He had fewer instruments available to respond, being able to utilize only the overhead wires and the power of his pen. He aimed his words at “the people” of the entire nation—North and South alike. The modern president reacts by email or sends a barrage of Twitter messages laser-focused on those aligned to him, “his base,” not concerned about increasing his support or addressing the entire country.
Seven years ago, Mark Bowen of The Atlantic looked at “How Lincoln Was Dissed in His Day.” He said that the “bile poured on him from every quarter made today’s Internet vitriol seem dainty.” Lincoln seemed caught in a no-win situation, always criticized by those who felt he had gone too far versus those who believed he hadn’t gone far enough. (Mark Bowen, “How Lincoln Was Dissed in His Day,” June 2013.)
Lincoln’s critics came not just from the South, but from Northern sources, causing him “great pain,” according to his wife, in part because he had thin-skin and felt the thorns others might ignore. Reverend Henry Ward Beecher ‘s attack specially grieved the President, who was sensitive about his lack of formal education. Beecher wrote:
” It would be difficult for a man to be born lower than he (Lincoln) was. He is an unshapely man. He is a man that bears evidence of not having been educated in school or in circles of refinement.”
After reading such an attack, Lincoln exclaimed: “I would rather be dead than, as President, thus abused in the house of my friends.” Note, he did not take Beecher off his list of friends. When faced with a raft of such statements, Lincoln would wave his hand and say, “Let us speak no more of these things.” (Ibid.)
In 1861, Ohio Republican, Lincoln’s own party, William M. Dickson charged that Lincoln “is universally an admitted failure, has no will, no courage, no executive capacity. . . and his spirit necessarily infuses itself downwards through all departments.” Early in the war, Lincoln was still learning the ropes, but this had to sting.
Charles Sumner, a Republican from Massachusetts, to whom Lincoln often turned for advice, opposed his re-nomination in 1864, wrote: “There is strong feeling among those who have seen Mr. Lincoln, in the way” of business, that he lacks practical talent for his important place. It is thought that there should be more readiness and also more capacity, for government.” (Bowen)
Could Jealousy Have Framed the Response?
If one looked at Lincoln’s Inaugural Address through a clear, clean lens, would not the words sing?
“I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this road land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
And yet, an editorial writer for the Jersey City American Standard (surely a Democrat) found the speech “involved, coarse, colloquial, devoid of grace, and bristling with obscurities and outrages against the simplest rules of syntax.” Ouch!
The Gettysburg Address Didn’t Fare Much Better
“We pass over the silly remarks of the President. For the credit of the nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them, and they shall be no more repeated or thought of.” The Harrisonburg Patriot & Union printed a much-belated apology 150 years later. Thank goodness they weren’t, and we have this example of clean, heartfelt writing.
The responses pro and con to the Gettysburg Address no longer sway modern opinions. It’s established that positive responses were from the Republican press, while the negative came from the Democratic. Those in-between might have been caught up in the custom of the times that believed the longer the speech, the better it was. Though the crowd that day, most standing throughout, would appreciate a two-minute speech. Perhaps the true nature of Lincoln’s pared-down speech, using exact, purposeful words and few of them (269 in the original speech) would fit nicely on the front pages of newspapers across the country. His intention: to reach the masses.
The celebrated orator who spoke for two hours ahead of Lincoln, Edward Everett, knew a good speech when he heard it and gave credit to Lincoln in a note. “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”
Inside the Lincoln Shrine
Since he did not sit for TV interviews, Abe did not require Pancake makeup and likely would not have taken to it, indicating with a quip that not much could improve his physical image. Today the lights in the Lincoln Memorial and the exquisite work by sculptor Daniel Chester French do not require a touchup. Recently the current White House occupant chose a respite in Lincoln’s shine to seat his favorite contemporary news team for a partisan report.
Maybe the 16th President would have equated that with his sit-down with Greeley of the Big Three Newsmen in the 19th century, but maybe he would have preferred the sound of school children instead. Lincoln, accustomed to working in the White House all but three weeks of the Civil War, might have been surprised that a month sequestered there be such a burden for the current president. Likely Lincoln would see the visit inside as a respite—maybe to catch the draft from the former’s reputation.
The World Sweated After His Final Speech
Once the ink on the Appomattox surrender dried, Washingtonians rushed to the White House portico to hear a response from their President, expecting a grand announcement of victory. They didn’t know Abe, who asked the army band to play “Dixie” on the lawn outside his window, calling it a “good tune.”
Lincoln didn’t gloat, instead moved on mentally to the essential work–bringing the nation together. He called for national thanksgiving. He did not plan vengeance against the South’s leader and agreed with a letter he’d received that said: “The people want no manifestations of a vengeful spirit. They are willing to let the unhappy rebels live, knowing that at the best, their punishment, like Caine (sic), will be greater than they can bear.”
Instead Lincoln talked about the hard task ahead: Reconstruction and bringing the tattered nation back into one. John Wilks Booth, a late entry to the far edge of the audience, did not have to strain to hear the President’s high-pitched voice. His disgust grew into rage as Lincoln advanced the idea of the elective franchise for the colored veteran men.
Lincoln told the crowd that by keeping the vote from these men (now 140,000 strong after the deaths of 40,000 black Union soldiers), were saying:
“This cup of liberty which these, your old masters, hold to your lips, we will dash from you, and leave you to the chances of gathering the spilled and scattered contents in some vague and undefined when, where, and how.”
The President sealed his fate when he spoke of rewarding those who had sacrificed the most, (see note) extending the vote to any black male veteran. With these words, the anger in Booth’s mind boiled over to rage. His initial plans were to kidnap Lincoln to exchange him for Confederate prisoners of war. In his wrath, Booth heard Lincoln’s words as the ultimate sin and from that moment planned for Lincoln to pay the ultimate price.
Yet the country and the Southern states suffered more because of Booth’s action. Bleeding emotions from those fateful days 155 years ago, misunderstandings and grievances surrounding race shape the national psyche and influence the nation’s divisions today, threatening to bring more destruction to America than a pandemic ever could.
You decide: Who was the greater martyr?
Jennifer Weber, “Lincoln’s Critics: The Copperheads,” University of Michigan Vol. 32, Issue 1, Winter 2011, p. 33-47
Mark Bowden, “How Lincoln Wad Dissed in His Day,” The Atlantic Magazine, June 2013
David Blanchette, The State Journal-Register, Springfield, IL. “Abraham Lincoln, like Donald Trump had his media enemies, too” February 25, 2017
Horace Greeley’s” Open Letter to President Lincoln,” New York Tribune, August 19, 1862
Abraham Lincoln’s “Letter to Horace Greeley,” Daily National Intelligencer, August 22, 1862
Donald Herbert Donald, Lincoln, (London: Random House, 1995)
Ryan Holiday, “Abraham Lincoln as Media Manipulator-in-Chief: The 150-Year History of Corrupt Press,” Observer, November 5, 2014
National Archives: “Black Soldiers in the U.S. Military During the Civil War,40,000 of the 180,000 negro ground troops died in the Civil War; 10,000 in battle and 30,000 of disease, receiving different treatment than white soldiers. Thus 75% of blacks died of disease vs. 50% of whites.
Louis P Masur, Lincoln’s Last Speech, New York: Oxford University Press, 2014) p. 12
NOTE: Michael Burlingame’s 1000-page tome, Abraham Lincoln, Vol II (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008) p. 810 The week of the murder Booth was challenged as to what he had done for the Cause. While he had thought of the death of Lincoln, he had not moved on it, instead having put together a group to kidnap the President, planning since the prior fall. But the events including the surrender, pushed him to act.
Ronald Amundsen and CaptainRobert Falcon Scott each led a team of adventurers competing to reach the South Pole first. Note how each team leader prepared BEFORE they hit the trail. Each planned for a three-four months’ expedition and had 56 percent of good days of weather, and expected a 1400-mile trip (think New York to Chicago and back) without any means of modern communication onboard. Can you determine which team returned first?
Captain Scott, 43, led a British Expedition to the South Pole nine years earlier, reaching 82 degrees South, 530 miles from the South Pole. A member of the Royal Navy instead of a scientist, he trained on torpedo boats though one he captained ran aground in 1893. Seeking to become an explorer, he befriended the man who would select the team leader. The dogs his team trained prior to the expedition died of disease, which might have encouraged him to switch to ponies. On the first expedition, he squabbled with Ernest Shackleford, a well-known Artic explorer who had sought the pole with Scott in 1901. The disagreement came regarding the territory each man had staked out for exploration.
For the expedition, Scott:
Selected ponies as the beast of burden
Placed a single flag at their depot destinations
Used untested “motor sledges” to carry the supplies
Complained about his “bad luck” in his journal
Brought one thermometer for key altitude-measurements and exploded “in an outburst of wrath and consequence” when it broke
Amundsen, 39, showed a fascination for discovery. At 28 purchased a small, Gjoa ship and became the first in 1900 to sail through the tiny islands of Northern Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. Shortly after he determined to enter a sailing race in Spain, two-thousand miles from Norway and bicycled the distance. Then he sought to participate in the trek to the North Pole, but Perry and Cook had claimed it. So he angled himself into the leadership of the Norwegian set out to conquer the South Pole. It bothered him little that Scott announced his intention first or that the Norwegian Queen, Maud, was British and might not smile upon his competing with her countrymen’s adventurer. Amundsen moved forward. His intensity marked him among the explorers and drew on this in training, to overcome whatever obstacles might suddenly appear in his way (like a 9,000-foot mountain or a glacier in the middle of the route.) Before arriving in Antarctica, Amundsen laid down the gauntlet to Captain Scott, who was in Australia purchasing final provisions for his expedition. “Beg leave to inform you Fram (Amundsen’s ship) proceeding to Antarctica. Amundsen”
Posted 20 flags four miles out, so in a blizzard his crew would still find the route to the depot on their return
Built buffers for distance, time, weight of sledges to carry provisions and amount of food necessary
Plotted a route that placed his base camp 60 miles closer to the South Pole than Scott’s camp, shortening the arduous over-land travel coming and going
Embraced the possibility of change, presuming unfavorable conditions and chance events
Built a contingency plan should something happen to him so the expedition could be successful without him
Amundsen’s team reached a sunlit, -10 F degree South Pole on December 15, 1911 at the same time Scott, who started five weeks later, was 360 miles out as the British Expedition man-hauled supplies through the ice and snow. Scott’s team saw the Norwegian flag on the South Pole on January 17, 1912 and recorded their “bad luck” at the time. The Norwegian team reached the sea on January 25 on the exact day Amundsen had built into his plan for their return.
Scott’s crew, had nobly performed hundreds of scientific experiments as intended for their expedition, collecting wildlife and rock samples. This ate up valuable time, but did result in 15 bound volumes of never-before discovered biological, zoological, and geological findings and transformed use of a camera on an expedition. This was the Royal Society’s intention for the expedition, Captain Scott tacked on a desire to race to the South Pole.
Unfortunately, no one from the British Expedition survived to provide a personal account. The findings came from documents left behind. Captain Scott and his crew all were stuck in their tents in a blizzard just 11 miles from their base camp. Scott and the last two died of hypothermia March 29, 1912. Eight months later their frozen bodies were found in the snowbank that drifted over their tent.
Sadly, the Scott party also learned that ponies do not hold up in the snow and had to be shot. Sweat on the horses turned to ice on their hides. The mechanized sleds sounded like a great idea but broke down in the extremely cold. The human team was forced to pull the supply sleds, which proved to be too heavy a burden. The single flags by the depots made it too easy to miss the mark, particularly in a blizzard, which wasted time and energy.
While Amundsen’s crew had good weather on their return, they were also traveling a month earlier, when better weather could be expected. March 1912 brought -40 below weather and blizzard conditions in Antarctica for Scott’s exhausted team.
Investing Time in Preparation
Amundsen invested the time and developed the skills needed to survive and lead a team in the Artic. He had lived among the Eskimo to learn how they survived in sub-zero temperatures, ate raw dolphin meat, dressed in loose fur. Amundsen noted the Eskimos’ slow movements to prevent excessive sweat that could turn to ice in sub-zero temperatures. The Eskimos also taught him how they used dogs to pull their sleds, how much dogs could transport, and the amount of food men and beasts needed in the cold. He built redundancy into everything he did, so when one system failed, he could develop a work-around to save the day and his team.
Amundsen’s philosophy: You do not wait until you are in an unexpected storm to discover that you need more strength and endurance. (Jim Collins, p. 15)
The Artic explorations were a century ago when self-reliance substituted for reaching out on social media. Conditions were such, though, even if Scott’s team could have reach out, it is unlikely help could have reached them in time. But these explorers, not entirely unlike us, seek to succeed in uncommon times and in a place we do not entirely recognize.
Jim Collins, a student of leadership for over twenty years, talked about the need to be “hypervigilant” in good times and bad—even in calm, clear, positive conditions. It is a certain type of “productive paranoia” that leader’s practice or can learn to duplicate. He believes that conditions will –absolutely with 100 percent certainty—turn against each of us without warning, at some unpredictable point in time, at some highly inconvenient moment.” P 29 Collins
That is why it is wise to think and strategize about the “horrible what-ifs” that impact a state, a nation, a continent, and in this case an entire world in lightning fast action.
Ronald Amundsen set the standard: “Victory awaits him who has everything in order—luck people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.”
Ronald Amundsen, The South Pole (McLean, VA: IndyPublish, 2009), 192.
Jim Collins, Great by Choice, (New York: HarperCollins, 2011)
Take stock now that a year has turned. It’s not so easy I know as I recalculate the completion date for my book. Disappointment in myself could be an easy response. But this creative process, whether with books, frying chicken, or basketball takes time. Sometimes it takes more time than we want to allow and we give up. Not yet in my case because I saw what the people noted below were able to accomplish when they stuck with it.
“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” Winston Churchill
I’m not recommending that you wallow in failure, but that you consider it a steppingstone. What can you learn from it to take away to project 2.0, 3.0, or 500.0? Failing today can build a foundation for a successful tomorrow, if you embrace what you’ve learned and moved it forward.
Extraordinary belief yields amazing results
That’s what Thomas Edison did when creating the light bulb. It took 10,000 experiments with different materials and timing to create the perfect GE light bulb. As a boy, he finished his schooling at home with his mother, who believed in him, after his schoolteacher found him “stupid” and beyond learning. Maybe he was just resting his mind so he could later create 9,000 U.S. Patented inventions and found a laboratory to mold scientific minds following in his path. Edison never gave up and when he hit his stride very few could keep up or meet his success.
J.K. believed and Stephen had a believer
The writer J.K. Rowlings, known today as the creator of the internationally renown Harry Potter series, which has captivated my grandson and millions around the world, hatched the idea for the books on a train in England in 1990. Not until 1997, after the loss of her mother and her marriage and with a child to raise, did Rowlings publish the first novel. She believed in the idea and with each publication more rolled from her fingers. Now financially secure, she doesn’t stop but keeps creating new ideas to play with our imagination—that’s what she does.
Stephen King, who has 50 spooky novels to his international credit, received 30 rejections for Carrie, his first novel that was later made into a movie. When he placed that manuscript in the trash ready to give up, his wife pulled it out and gave it another try. Having someone who believes in you can be a blessing, but sometimes you need to rely on yourself to keep on.
Harlan believed into his 60s and beyond
No doubt you’ve heard of Colonel Sanders, the fried chicken magnet. It’s shocking to know that his recipe has traveled around the world—something about salty that translates well. Well enough that Col. Sanders stores are ubiquitous in Beijing and Shanghai, popping up on many corners in the business district. But do you know the backstory? Harlan Davis Sanders submitted his special recipe for fried chicken using a faster pressurized method to 1,009 restaurants before one in Salt Lake City, Utah brought it in 1952.
Born in Indians, Sanders originally developed the recipe when he was 50 in 1939, but he didn’t take it around until he used a $105 social security check to help fund the trip when he was 65. He built his brand as the white-suited, mustache-wearing, Kentucky colonel, and the company grew to become internationally recognized. When Sanders turned 74, he sold the company for $2 million, retaining rights to the Canadian market and becoming a goodwill ambassador. Not a billionaire, but comfortable until his death at 90, when bhis body laid at the Kentucky State Capitol for viewing before burial.
Michael wasn’t always a superstar, but he practiced
Not all successful people are inventors or whip up a lip-smacking recipe, some enjoy a game and play it so well the world takes notice. Take Michael Jordan, an athlete born in Brooklyn, but raised in Wilmington, North Carolina, a small town the parents of five thought would be a better influence. Michael wanted to follow in the footsteps of his athletic brother, but being much shorter, he stuck with baseball, where he was an MVP pitcher and outfielder.
When a position on the varsity basketball squad opened, he thought the position would automatically be his, though he was 5’11.” Another player, 6’5” grabbed the spot. That got Michael’s attention and his lazy approach to practice evaporated. By the time he was a high school junior, Michael had grown to 6’3,” taller than any family member, and continued to perfect his skills. He made the varsity squad and scored the winning point for the University of North Carolina in the 1982 NCAA Championship against Georgetown. He played on the gold medal-winning 1984 and 1992 Olympic teams. For the Chicago Bulls, Jordan led the way to becoming an NBA All-Star 14 times, six times the NBA champion, and five times the NBA MVP. The official NBA website proclaimed him “the greatest basketball player of all time.” Quite a feat for someone who struggled to make the team as a sophomore.
Keep on keeping on!
There are days, many days, when it’s easy to question my progress on the book and I’m briefly tempted to hang it up. But I still believe I have a story worth telling. So in 2020 I’m vowing to keep at it, set goals, limit distractions, and move to the finish to get ‘er done. Join me in your quest, whatever it is, so we can be satisfied when 2021 rolls around!
Returning from the 100th Anniversary celebration for the League of Women Voters in San Antonio, I thought about the relentless struggle of the women who fought for the right to vote,–something we take for granted today—but many forget to exercise. Now the League works to register America’s voters and ensure we have the same right the women fought years for and finally received when the 19th Amendment was ratified by 36 states in 1920.
What does voting have to do with “civility”? One answer might be: everything. The ability to conduct a fair election without verbal use of people, places, or things has become a challenge. One might be tempted to chalk it up to the last election cycle, but if we’re honest, we’ve been sliding along the slippery slope of bad manners and “saying almost anything to get elected” for some time now. Window dressing, painting the situation over with a fake azure blue sky and white fluffy clouds will not solve our problem.
A dose of civility could be in order. Some say they learned how to behave in public from their parents—how to introduce themselves, pass the plate to the person on the right, how to be excused from the table, listening before breaking in with your two cents. And saying nothing if you have nothing “nice” to say. In Texas and other Southern states, children learn respect when they’re taught to respond to adults: “Yes, Mam,” or “No, Sir”– a practice that irritated me at first, thinking it pertained just to elders. Now I’m proud that this act of civility continues to hold, at least here in Texas.
Many of America’s seniors remember “Civics” class as the place we studied about mayors, governors, and presidents, acted out the steps in passing a bill through Congress, and often learned that our public schools, parks, and rec centers were paid for mainly by state or local taxes. Now that these classes are gone, basic knowledge about government has disappear from many states, making it much easier for shifty candidates to sway the opinion of unschooled and sometimes lazy Americans, who do not double check politicians’ statements or question their promises.
Yet demonizing the opposition does not serve our purposes. India’s former leader Mahatma Gandhi reminded his followers: “We must resolutely refuse to consider our opponents as enemies.” That serves only to strengthen their resolve, doing nothing to bring us together after the election.
When Being Civil was the Civil Thing to Do If we look back to another time of political stress prior to the Civil War, we find surprising examples where people of opposing political perspectives were willing to help each other in time of need. When Jefferson Davis (future President of the Confederacy) served as Secretary of War under President Pierce, Varina Davis became critically ill late in her second pregnancy. A paralyzing snowstorm hit Washington, preventing her nurse from reaching her. New York Senator William Seward, who strongly opposed slavery and would serve as Lincoln’s Secretary of State during the Civil War, picked up the nurse in a horse-drawn sleigh pulled by his own fine horses and delivered her to the Davis residence. Both survived and Varina, who would become a journalist after the war, had three more children with Davis.
The Founders’ descendants and their families, struggled at times to maintain decorum with opposing politicians. Firebrand Abby Adams, married to Charles Francis Adams– the son of President John Quincy Adams and grandson of President John Adams–became a popular guest in Washington with many political friends, including staunch anti-slavery proponent, Charles Sumner, prior to the war.
Abby accepted invitations from popular Washington hostess and Southern sympathizer Rose Greenhow, whose views were well known from her articles in the New York Herald. Mrs. Adams voiced her own views at one of Greenhow’s soirees and “waded right into the hottest political topic of the day,” declaring John Brown of Harper’s Ferry a “holy saint and martyr.” Rose, equally quick on the draw, shot back, “he was a traitor and met a traitor’s doom.” Such was dinner conversation in the late 1850s. Gossip moved along at a dramatic clip. Widow Greenhow would spend time in the Old Capitol Prison, which held Confederate spies.
While no American forts are under fire or cannons lit today, civil words are at a premium and distaste for the actions of an opponent are turning politics from a natural component of life into a blood sport, where the vitriol saps voters’ interest in participation. Democracy’s future waivers in a country where 59 percent of the people are turned off by politics and the number of voters declines. (2017 Civility study by Weber Shandwick Powell Tate and KR Research)
Too easily we forget that the Constitution revered by Americans grew out of The Great Compromise of 1787, imperfect in its own way, but a point from which the nation could begin. Those at the Constitutional Convention kept their eyes on the nation they wanted to create. More than two centuries later, the stakes have risen with a population that has grown from 2.8 million (1780) to 329 million people (2019), bringing a complexity of education, transportation, health care, commerce, agricultural, social service, and government issues beyond the scope of Colonists.
Taking the first steps How do we start to roll back from the brink? In Maine, Craig Foster began a “Make Shift Coffee House,” where people with opposing views meet to learn from others and drink good coffee. Citizens for Reviving Civility in Arizona believes that listening to others is the key. Reflection, not reaction, works well to avoid debating issues and eventually move on to solving more difficult problems over time.
Better Angels, a national citizens’ movement works to reduce polarization by bringing liberals and conservatives together, face-to-face, to understand each other beyond stereotypes, forming red/blue community alliances, and teach practical skills for communicating across political differences. (More than a thousand people have participated in over thirty states).
Founder David Blankenhorn says the group’s goal is not to get people to change their views, but to get people to listen well to one another. “If you listen well,” he explains, “and if you try to understand—and if you’re confident that people are going to listen to you—you become a human being, friendship develops despite the political differences, and the rancor goes down.”
In Duluth, Minnesota, Speak Your Peace: The Civility Project began in 2003 to address political tensions caused by economic decline, plants closing, and rising anxiety. Proponents were quick to point out it was not a campaign to end disagreements, but one to improve public discourse by reminding the community of the basic principles of respect. They are inclusive, welcoming all groups of citizens working for the common good. The group looks for opportunities to agree, encouraging participants to avoid contradicting others’ because they can, to accept individual responsibility by looking in the mirror before pointing fingers at others.
Phillip Browne, vice president-communications, offered tips to help restore civility in the National Notary Association’s Notary Bulletin: • Seek out a variety of news sources with different perspectives • Allow others to speak and listen closely to build mutual understanding • Seek common ground in your conversations • Avoid rumors and don’t jump to conclusions or assume you know another person’s perspective or next word will be.
Wehner in The Death of Politics mentions Calvin Coolidge, who warned his countrymen not to just ward off the dangerous elements that threatened government, “Our hope lies in developing what is good.” Interestingly enough in that 2017 survey of Civility 94 percent reported they “always” acted in the interest of “civility,” which may indicate we are almost there or have even farther to go than we thought! Here’s to drinking coffee or tea together, toasting “civility” . . . then working slowly to come back from the brink.
—————— Peter Wehner’s book, The Death of Politics (New York: HarperOne, 2019) inspired this column and included stories not just about America’s problems, but ways we can work together to solve them. “New York Senator William Seward picked up the nurse..” Cokie Roberts, Capital Dames, (New York: HarperCollins, 2015), p. 59. The week after Roberts died it seemed appropriate to remind myself this NPR trailblazer also studied and wrote about the roles of strong American women in history . “Holy saint and martyr,” Ibid. p. 69 “Our friends who positively hate him…” p. 76 Better Angels Help Communities Ease Political Tensions,” CBS This Morning, March 26, 2018, on YouTube, https//www.youtube.com/watch?v=5mLDgtUuK34 In Duluth, Speak Your Peace, Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation, “Speak Youth Peace: A Civility Project,” http://dsaspeakyourpeace.org/index.html Civility tips from P.M. Forni’s book: Choosing Civility. Phillip Browne, National Notary Association’s Notary Bulletin, October 2017 Members routinely notarize documents for clients of all backgrounds, across all issues. https://national-notary.org/notary_bulletin/civility-in-crisis/ “How to Teach Civics in School,” The Economist, July 6, 2017, https://www,economist.com/democracy-in-school