Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Woodrow Wilson on Giving "Slack"

In June 1916, President Wilson Was at the Annaoplois Graduation and had not planned to speak. Once there, he decided to speak to the midshipmen and he chose to address a character issue to those about to enter the service as commissioned officers. Sage words for any of our leaders, those in the pipeline to be commissioned and those who are already. “Once and again when youngsters here or at West Point have forgotten themselves and done something ought not to do and were about to be disciplined, perhaps severely, for it, I have been appealed to by their friends to excuse them from penalty. Knowing that I have spent most of my life at college, they commonly say to me. ‘You know college boys. You know what they are. They are heedless youngsters very often, and they ought not to be held up to the same standards of responsibility that older men must submit to.’ I have always replied ‘Yes, I know college boys. But while these youngsters are college boys, they are something more. They are officers of the United States.. They are not merely college boys. If they were, I would look at dereliction of duty on their part in another spirit; but any dereliction of duty on the part of a naval officer of the United States may involve the fortunes of a nation and cannot be overlooked.’ Do you not see the difference? You cannot indulge yourself in weakness, gentlemen. You cannot forget your duty for a moment, because there might become a time when that weak spot in you should affect you in the midst of a great engagement, and then the whole history of the world might be changed by what you did not do or did wrong.” “So that the personal feeling I have for you is this: we are all bound together, I for the time being and you permanently, under a special obligation, the most solemn that the mind can conceive.. The fortunes of a nation are confided to us. Now, that ought to depress a man. Sometimes I think that nothing is worthwhile that is not hard. You do not improve your muscle by doing the easy thing; you improve it by doing the hard thing, and you get your zest by doing a thing that is difficult, not a thing that is easy. I would a great deal rather, so far as my sense of enjoyment is concerned, have something strenuous to do than to have something else that can be done leisurely and without stimulation of the faculties.” “Therefore, I congratulate you that you are going to live your lives under the most stimulating compulsion that any man can feel, the sense not of private duty merely, but of public duty also. And then if you perform that duty, there is a reward which is superior to any other reward in the world. That is the affectionate remembrance of your fellow men – their honor, their affection. No man could wish for more than that or find anything higher than that to strive for.” I think that is good advice for all of us to absorb. It's not just those in the military who lead.....

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