“Our landings have failed. And I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air, and the navy did all that bravery and devotion could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine, and mine alone.”
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
I was born in the middle of World War II, so, I am old enough to remember some of the heroes of that war. Memorial Day has brought some of those to my recall. The first president of the United States that I remember with any clarity was Dwight D. Eisenhower. The famous general of D-Day was a national hero. During my boyhood I liked Ike.
I am currently reading a book of quotations collected by Elizabeth Dole, former U.S. Senator, and Secretary of a couple of agencies of the government. In her section on “Leadership” she began with a quotation from Ike which I have read many times, but which had a special appeal for me tonight. In anticipation of a possible failure of the D-Day invasion Ike wrote the following:
Elizabeth Dole’s short commentary about this statement is worth reading too. She said, “‘If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine, and mine alone.’ There in one simple sentence, is true leadership. How many of our societal problems would vanish overnight if we could just get those words right: The responsibility is mine alone.” She continued, “In the final analysis, that is what great leaders do .... They don’t pass the responsibility or blame to someone else. They stand ready to make the hard decisions, and to live with failure or success.”(1)
Cliche? Maybe. True? Absolutely! Consider then, Mrs. Hillary Clinton’s near total silence for a month over growing questions about her responsibility in not following policy to use government e-mail accounts; in being her own arbiter about what e-mails to give to the government and what e-mails to delete; or her knowledge about the Islamic extremist attack on the embassy in Benghazi; or the fact that her boss Barak Obama did not want Sidney Blumenthal in his government, but Hillary used him as an adviser surreptitiously; and worst of all, consider her response to the mounting evidence of a pattern of influence peddling while she was Secretary of State. When questioned about these matters she dismisses them with a wave of the hand, saying this is the kind of attack you expect from the conservative right.
I argued earlier that she owes it to the American people to let us know as much as we can about her so we can make enlightened judgments about her suitability to lead us. Good luck on that one Dan! It is crystal clear that she is self-serving in the extreme; she wants all the power she can get, but none of the responsibility for what she does with it. When stacked up against Dwight Eisenhower’s example of accepting responsibility for possible failure on D-Day, she is on a totally different and very barren planet. She is not the man for me.
Let's think together again, soon.
1. Elizabeth Dole, comp., Hearts Touched With Fire: My 500 Favorite Inspirational Quotations, (New York: Carroll & Graff, 2004), pp. 139-40, emphasis added.
Saturday, May 23, 2015
[Introduction: In my Spring ritual of reading commencement addresses I lucked on to one by one of my favorite authors and speakers–historian David McCullough. It was given at the University of Connecticut on 15 May 1999. He told them he was going to speak about the “greatest of all avenues to learning”–reading books. I love reading books more than reading commencement addresses, so I thought I would share with you the core of his message. Please enjoy.]
We're being sold the idea that information is learning and we're being sold a bill of goods.
Information isn't learning. Information isn't wisdom. It isn't common sense necessarily. It isn't kindness. Or trustworthiness. Or good judgement. Or imagination. Or a sense of humor. Or courage. It doesn't tell us right from wrong.
Knowing the area of the State of Connecticut in square miles, or the date on which the United Nations Charter was signed, or the jumping capacity of a flea maybe be useful or valuable, but it isn't learning of itself.
If information were learning, you could become educated by memorizing the World Almanac. Were you to memorize the World Almanac, you wouldn't be educated. You'd be weird.
My message is in praise of the greatest of all avenues to learning, to wisdom, adventure, pleasure, insight, to understanding human nature, understanding ourselves and our world and our place in it.
I rise on this beautiful morning, here in this center of learning to sing again the old faith in books. In reading books. Reading for life, all your life.
Nothing ever invented provides such sustenance, such infinite reward for time spent as a good book.
Thomas Jefferson told John Adams he could not live without books. Adams, who through a long life read more even and more deeply than Jefferson and who spent what extra money he ever had on books, wrote to Jefferson at age 79 of a particular set of books he longed for on the lives of the saints, all forty-seven volumes.
. . . Once upon a time in the dead of winter in Dakota territory, with the temperature well below zero, young Theodore Roosevelt took off in a makeshift boat, accompanied by two of his ranch hands, down-stream on the Little Missouri River in chase of a couple of thieves who had stolen his prized row boat. After days on the river, he caught up and got the draw on them with his trusty Winchester, at which point they surrendered. Then, after finding a man with a team and a wagon, Roosevelt set off again to haul the thieves cross-country to justice. He left the ranch hands behind to tend to the boat, and walked alone behind the wagon, his rifle at the ready. They were headed across the snow covered wastes of the Bad Lands to the rail head at Dickinson, and Roosevelt walked the whole way, 40 miles. It was an astonishing feat, what might be called a defining moment in that eventful life. But what makes it especially memorable is that during that time, he managed to read all of Anna Karenina.
I often think of that when I hear people say they haven't time to read.
There's always time to read. And if your experience, you of the Class of 1999, is anything like my own, the best, most important books you will ever read are still ahead of you.
"Education is not the filling of a pail," Yeats wrote," but the lighting of a fire."
I have some calculations for you to consider.
Reportedly the average America watches 28 hours of television every week, or approximately four hours a day. The average person, I'm told, reads at a rate of 250 words per minute.
So, based on these statistics, were the average American to spend those four hours a day with a book, instead of watching television, the average American could, in a week, read:
The complete poems of T.S. Eliot;
Two plays by Thornton Wilder, including Our Town;
The complete poems of Maya Angelou;
Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury;
The Great Gatsby; and
The Book of Psalms.
That's all in one week.
If the average American were to forsake television for a second week, he or she could read all of Moby Dick, including the part about whales and made a good start, if not finish, The Brothers Karamazov.
Read for pleasure. Read what you like, and all you like. Read literally to your heart's content. Let one book lead to another. They nearly always do.
Read, read, read, is my commencement advice.
Take up a great author, new or old, and read everything he or she has written. Read about places you've never been. Read biography, history. Read the books that have changed history -- Tom Paine's Common Sense, the Autobiography of Frederick Douglass, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.
I love the mysteries of Ruth Rendell and the letters of E.B. White. I have an old copy of Wind, Sand and the Stars by St. Exupery that I would hate ever to part with. I'm particularly fond of Carson McCullers and Wallace Stegner, and for a book I'm working on I'm having the best possible time reading writers of the eighteenth century - De Foe, Sterne, Fielding, and the amazing Tobias Smollet. To judge by their prose I can't help but feel that the quill pen is still well ahead of the word processor.
Imagine all there is to read that has been written here in Connecticut by Connecticut authors: the works of Twain, Barbara Tuchman, Paul Horgan, John Hersey, William Styron, the plays of Eugene O'Neill and Arthur Miller, the poetry of Robert Penn Warren and Wallace Stevens, not to say Mr. Webster's dictionaries. In times past, old Noah Webster's "blue-back speller," as it was called, published first in 1783, found its way everywhere in the new nation, from the eastern seaboard to the frontier beyond the Mississippi. It ran to 404 editions and except for the Bible may have been the most widely read book in eighteenth and nineteenth century America.
By all means read Dickens. Read those books you know you're supposed to have read and imagine as dreary. A classic may be defined as a book that stays long in print and a book stays long in print only because it is exceptional. Why exclude the exceptional from your experience? Read the classics.
Go back and read again the books written supposedly for children - and especially if you think they are only for children - my first choice would be The Wind in the Willows. There's much, very much to learn in the company of Toad, Rat, and Mole.
Do not, whatever you do, wait as I did until you're past 50 to read Don Quixote.
To carry a book with you wherever you go is old advice and good advice. John Adams urged his son John Quincy to carry a volume of poetry, "You'll never be alone," he said,"with a poet in your pocket."
And when you read a book you love, a book you feel has enlarged the experience of being alive, a book that "lights the fire," spread the word. Spread the word.Let's think together again, soon.
Source: David McCullough, commencement address at the University of Connecticut, 15 May 1999. Text available online at:
Thursday, May 21, 2015
It has been fascinating watching candidate Hillary Clinton since she announced she was running for President about a month ago–and the media covering her non-campaign so far. The right are frustrated that she is not giving interviews or facing tough questions. The left are proud that she is so politically astute. She knows she is ahead, so why jeopardize her position by getting into the fray, which most everyone seems to agree she isn’t good at anyway.
There is one thing that troubles me about this. I think both sides are missing the point, one that I have yet to hear anybody make. Perhaps someone out there has, but I have not seen or heard it. (Feel free to call my attention to it if you have.) Her political strategy is debatable. While it may insulate her from herself and from tough questions about e-mail, Benghazi, the Clinton foundation, Sidney Blumenthal, and her accomplishments or lack thereof as Secretary of State, almost all of which go to the matter of her integrity, her silence may also hurt her in the long run. This is why I believe this may be the case.
Some years ago I watched an interview with the very liberal actor Richard Dreyfus. He was angry about George Bush or his administration about something. I have forgotten the issue now, but it is beside the point. He felt they were not transparent, they were not properly forthcoming. They refused to answer the tough questions. In animated anger Dreyfus asserted something like this: Somebody needs to shove the mike in their face and remind them that they work for us and insist that they “answer the damn question.”
One American patron saint, Thomas Jefferson, wrote: "I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education."(1) Nor is the remedy to keep the truth from them. Hillary Clinton is acting exactly contrary to the principle Jefferson expresses; she would keep power from us by keeping us in the dark. The one person in the country the American people need to know the most about is the President. Paul Wagner echoed Jefferson when he said, "It is the individual citizen’s understanding of facts that counts in a democracy. In totalitarian states, only a few people have to know the significance of facts. Here in America everyone has to know what facts mean."(2) Here in America everyone has to know who and what Hillary Clinton is and what she means. According to our wisest precepts she is obligated to so inform us about her views, her past actions, and leadership.
I do not believe the American public wants a woman, or a man, to stand at the head of our nation, the most powerful nation the earth has ever seen, who is afraid to answer the tough question for what ever reason. More importantly, I do not believe the American public want a president who will not render an account to them as her employer for what she thinks, says, or does! We do not want a politically savvy sneak, manipulator, artificer, prevaricator, chameleon, or irresponsible and unresponsive coward to represent or lead us. This is why she is making a mistake–Americans can see through the sham. She apparently has much to hide, and knowing this, she keeps the public in the dark as much as possible. There are indeed those who love darkness more than the light.
True, there are those for whom none of this makes a difference. But they should understand the ancient wisdom which says that, skill aside, you reap what you sow in this life. Her character is the real issue. Everywhere Mrs. Clinton goes she sows the wind and we the people, potentially her future employer, reap the whirlwind. I agree with Mr. Dreyfus. Someone needs to remind Hillary that she wants to work for us. Therefore, she should step up to the microphone and answer the questions so we the people may make enlightened judgments about her suitability to do so.
Let's think together again, soon.
Let's think together again, soon.
1. Thomas Jefferson to W. C. Jarvis in, Rex R. Eastman (comp.), The Liberty Book of Quotations, p. 30.
2. Paul A. Wagner, in Malcolm Forbes, The Forbes Scrapbook of Thoughts on the Business of Life, (New York: Forbes Inc., 1976), p. 390. One wonders if Mrs. Clinton understands the fundamental truth uttered by Maria Razumich-Zec who said, "Your reputation and integrity are everything. Follow through on what you say you’re going to do. Your credibility can only be built over time, and it is built from the history of your words and actions." [Maria Razmuich-Zec, in Bits & Pieces on Leadership, (August 2014), p. 19, emphasis added.]
I love graduation speeches. One of my favorite things to do each spring is surf the net looking for, reading, and extracting quotations, stories, and ideas from great commencement addresses. Here is one worth reading! Enjoy.
LIVE LIFE LARGE
Commencement Address at St. Anslem College, Spring 2015
President DiSalvo, Abbot Mark Cooper, trustees, faculty, honored guests, and weary parents. To the class of 2015: Well done, and congratulations.
To you parents, the years of investment and prayers have added up to this joyful achievement. Hopefully, you are about to experience the new American Dream, which is no longer owning your own home, it is getting your kids out of the home you own.
You have just heard that I have been awarded an honorary degree. When I think of all the times I have been here at Saint Anselm, for debates, forums, town meetings, and rallies, I might argue that it is an earned degree. But to get one of those, I guess I’d have had to win!
16 years of education has made your world a great deal bigger than the world of your childhood. It’s a funny thing about little kids: they don’t see much beyond what’s right around them. They see their family, their school, maybe their city or town, but they just can’t imagine distant places. Their vision, their world is like a small circle, bounded by their very limited experience.
Your world is now breathtakingly large, almost without boundaries. With such vastness and with so many possible directions to take, some of you may understandably feel somewhat anxious and uncertain. You may even be tempted to look for a smaller, more comfortable world, one that’s less complex, and less demanding. That’s not who you are and that’s not what Saint Anselm has prepared you to do. To experience a fulfilling, purposeful life, one thing you’re going to have to do it this: live a large life.
Living large means embracing every fruitful dimension of life.
It means continuing to expand your world and engaging in it as fully as you are able.
Let me offer a few suggestions about how to do that. The first involves your friends.
I remember sitting in a business class, looking around the room and thinking to myself that I’d probably never see any of these guys again after I graduated. All my attention was focused on what was being taught. But you know what, I’ve forgotten almost everything that was taught; it’s the classmates I remember, and it’s those friends that I value most today.
40 years since my graduation, the guys in my six person study group continue to get together. We’ve congratulated one another on our highs and consoled one another on our lows.
Believe it or not, your parents can become even closer friends than they are today. My friend Stuart Stevens decided to take his father to every single Ole Miss football game, home or away. What’s unusual about that is that his father is 95 years old. And Stuart had moved away from home for college over forty years ago. He lives in Vermont and his Dad lives in North Carolina. So these father-son excursions would involve a great deal of time and travel- – and long talks. He would dig deep into understanding his dad: his personality, his dreams and his fears. Delving so far into his father’s personhood, their friendship deepened, and their relationship expanded in such interesting ways that a noted New York publisher, Knopf, will publish a book about their experience this fall.
Your life will be larger if you value and nourish friendships, friends from here at Saint Anselm, from your home, and from the growing circle of your life.
For most of you, living life to the fullest will also mean marriage and children. I don’t expect that everyone here believes as I do that the Bible is the word of God or even that it is inspired by God. If not, then at least you will have to acknowledge that it represents the wisdom of the ages, written by extraordinary thinkers and philosophers. Either way, its counsel warrants serious attention.
In its opening pages, Adam gives this direction: “therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” The “one flesh” part we get, but the part about leaving mom and dad and getting married trips some people up.
I’m surely not going to tell you when to tie the knot. You’ve got parents who will do that. But I will tell you that marriage has been the single-most rewarding part of my life, by far. Marriage involves passion, conflict, emotion, fear, hope, compromise, and understanding – in short; it is living to the max.
And then children. In the Old Testament, Psalm 127 says: “children are a heritage of the Lord… As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them.”
I’m not sure whether having five sons qualifies as a full quiver, but I can affirm that they brought immeasurable happiness. And to my point, they engaged Ann and me in life, in ways we would not have expected.
On one occasion, Ann and I were invited to speak to students at the Harvard Business School about our choice of careers, I as a management consultant and she as a full-time mom. Ann was reluctant, in part because two other couples would also be speaking on the same topic, and both of the other women had chosen to be Wall Street bankers.
In the class, the other couples went first, I followed, and Ann spoke last. She explained that while she expected to have a career outside the home in the future, she had chosen to be a full-time mom until her five kids were raised. She went on to explain that her job had required more of her than she had imagined: she was psychologist, tutor, counselor, scoutmaster, coach, nurse practitioner, nutritionist, budget director, and more. When she sat down, the class was silent for several seconds and then it rose in a standing ovation.
Golda Meir, the former Prime Minister of Israel, was asked what her greatest accomplishment was. “Raising my daughter,” she answered.
Marriage and children expand your world and engage you more fully in it.
There’s a family burger joint I like whose founder put out a little book of his homespun wisdom. He says that to be happy requires three things: someone to love, something to look forward to, and something to do, in other words, work. You might be inclined to think that a Garden of Eden life would be preferable to working at a job, but you’d be wrong. I’m convinced that Adam and Eve would have been bored to tears if they’d stayed in the garden: no kids, no challenges, no job. I think that Adam being made to grow food “by the sweat of his brow” was a blessing, not a curse.
Of course, there’s a lot not to like about a job: the early alarm clock, the rush hour traffic, the stress. But work engages you in life. You come to know more people, to understand their motivations and values, and to learn the intricacies of the enterprise that employs you.
Don’t waste time bemoaning your job. Don’t skim by with the minimum of effort. Dive in. Get more from your job than the paycheck. Hard work is living large.
There’s a part of life that you won’t welcome: bad things. Bad things that happen to you. If you’re like I was, you imagine that bad things happen infrequently and that when they do, they mostly happen to other people.
I used to sit in church and look around the congregation. Everyone was smiling and happy. Life seemed to be nothing but puppies and pansies for everybody. And then my church asked me to serve as the pastor of that congregation. As pastor, I got to really know the people behind those smiling faces. And to my surprise, many of them held what Ann and I call a “bag of rocks” behind their back. That bag of rocks could be a chronic illness, a battle with some kind of addiction, a child that couldn’t keep up in school, unemployment, a financial crisis, withering loneliness, or a marriage on the rocks. To my surprise, almost every single family faced one kind of challenge or another. They all had a bag of rocks behind their backs. We all will hurt.
Engaging in your world means accepting that hurt, confronting it, and endeavoring to ascend above it so that you can keep pursuing a fulfilling and abundant life.
During my campaign, I met Sam Schmidt in Las Vegas. In January of 2000, Sam’s Indianapolis racing car hit the wall. This father of two young children spent five months on a respirator and was rendered quadriplegic–he can move nothing below his neck. He and I spoke about his life today: his morning begins with a two to three hour routine for bowel, bladder, teeth, shower and dressing. That would be enough for a lot of people to just give up. But instead, Sam owns and manages an Indy car racing team which regularly dominates the Indy Lights, having won 60 races. And he himself has actually begun to drive again. He has a Corvette that has been fitted out with special controls. To accelerate, he blows in an air tube. To brake, he sucks the air out of it. To turn left or right, he looks carefully left or right respectively. Accordingly, he warned his racing buddies: “You gotta keep the bikinis out of the grandstands because you don’t want any sudden movements.”
Sam’s disability is still there. He endures it every day, every hour. But that has not kept him from fully engaging in life.
Your career may be very different than you expect.
The biggest departure from my predicted career path came with my decision to run for political office. When I stepped into the auditorium to debate Ted Kennedy in Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall, I turned to Ann and asked: “In your wildest dreams, did you see me running for US Senate?” “Mitt,” she replied, “you weren’t in my wildest dreams.” Actually, she didn’t say that. That was a joke I bought for my campaign from a joke writer.
Through all these occupations, I have experienced successes and failures. I am asked what it felt like to lose to President Obama. Well, not as good as winning. Failures aren’t fun, but they are inevitable.
More importantly, failures don’t have to define who you are. Some people measure their life by their secular successes –how high on the corporate ladder did they get? How much money did they make? Did they do better than their high school classmate?
If that’s the kind of success you’re looking for, you’re bound to be disappointed. Life has way too much chance and serendipity to be assured fame or fortune.
More importantly, if your life is lived for those things, yours will be a shallow and unfulfilling journey.
The real wealth in life is in your friendships, your marriage, your children, what you have learned in your work, what you have overcome, your relationship with God, and in what you have contributed to others.
This last dimension, contribution to others, is often the most overlooked and most undervalued.
Tom Monaghan’s father died when Tom was just four years old. His mother entrusted him to a Catholic orphanage because she was unable to care for him and for his brother. He graduated from high school and enrolled in the University of Michigan. The tuition proved to be beyond his reach, so to help meet costs, he bought and ran a pizza shop.
He called his shops Domino’s and Tom became wealthy. He bought a Bugatti for $8.4 million. He bought the Detroit Tigers and won the World Series the next year.
When I met him in 1998, I was surprised to find him seated in a closet-sized ante-chamber to what had once been his lavish and spacious executive suite. He had sold the Tigers and the car. Tom had signed what was called the Millionaire’s Vow of Poverty. Accordingly, he would not drive a luxury car, fly in a private plane, or assume any of the trappings of wealth. That had included trading his impressive office for the small cubicle where I had found him.
Tom explained that reading the Bible and the essays of C.S. Lewis had reminded him of his upbringing in the Catholic orphanage. He wanted to change his life, and devote his remaining years to service.
On behalf of Bain Capital, I ultimately wrote Tom a check to buy Domino’s for over $1 billion. All but a small living stipend he then turned around and donated to Catholic charities. He founded a college and named it, not after himself, but after Mary: Ave Maria University.
I asked him a few weeks ago what the most rewarding part of his life was–winning the World Series, building Domino’s, or driving his Bugatti. You can guess his answer. “It wasn’t the toys – I’ve had enough toys to know how important they aren’t. It was giving back, through the university.”
Living life in fullness includes serving others, and doing so without pride or personal gain. It will fill your heart and expand your mind. I’ve seen that kind of service in large and small ways in my own family.
My sister has devoted the last 45 years of her life to the care and development of her Down syndrome son. My wife volunteered as a teacher for a class of at-risk girls. My mother was a frequent visitor to the homes of shut-ins and widows. My brother-in-law served in the Navy. My cousin Joan was foster mother to 57 children. My father and I both ran for political office.
Wait a second: that last item, running for office, may not seem like real service to you. I know that for some, politics is an occupation, and a fine one at that. But for Dad and me, it came after our careers were over. I believed, and my father believed, that we could really help people if we were elected.
Most of you probably won’t run for office, but the country needs all of you to serve. America faces daunting challenges: generational poverty, looming debt, a warming climate, and a world that is increasingly dangerous and tumultuous. Washington appears inept, powerless and without an effective strategy to overcome any of these. America needs your passion, your impatience with inaction, your participation in the political discourse. You have the opportunity to take part in one of America’s greatest endeavors – New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary. Get involved with the candidate of your choice. Work a phone bank, march in a parade like my favorite: the 4th of July Wolfeboro parade. Go door to door. Attend a town hall meeting and ask tough questions. New Hampshire is the greatest presidential proving ground we have; its enduring impact is only as certain as the next generation of citizens who choose to get involved. Engaging in your world includes engaging in citizenship.
The cozy little world of your childhood is long gone. You may be tempted to try to create for yourself that same kind of small and safe circle, concentrating on entertainments for yourself, doing the minimum at work, reading nothing because nothing has been assigned, avoiding meaningful commitments, complaining about the inevitable unfairnesses of life. Alternatively, you can live large by expanding your world and engaging in your world, constantly learning, nourishing friendships, overcoming reversals, engaging in citizenship, and serving others. That is the road less travelled, and it will make all the difference.
God bless you in your life’s journey.
Let's think together again, soon.