September 9th, 2010 // 10:42 am @ Oliver DeMille
One of the participants asked poignantly, “So what do we DO about all this?”
Others expressed similar concerns: Theory is okay, but what can really be done to impact society the way the American Founders did? Or the way other great statesmen and stateswomen in history did?
So much needs to be done in society; what can we do to make a difference?
This concern is not an isolated one. For at least the past fifty years, the classroom experience has been widely separated from “the real world.”
Reading, studying, discussing and writing are things done by students and academics — in a place not quite part of the real world of business, family, law, politics and current events.
So it is natural to ask what we can do — as if studying itself is not doing something.
Yet this was not the case for the great statesmen and stateswomen of history. Virtually all of them spent a significant portion of their lives reading, studying, writing and discussing — particularly in the classics.
Yes, they did other things; but it is doubtful that they could have done them without the scholarly preparation in character and competence.
I am not alone in my understanding that there are storms ahead — certainly the cycles of history suggest there are, for our nation and for other nations.
I do not know what they will be, nor do I believe that the future is ominous or doomed. I am an optimist. I believe that the best America and humanity have to offer are still ahead.
So mark these words well: Every generation faces its challenges, and ours will be no different. Our children and grandchildren will face their challenges. This is what I mean when I say that storms are ahead.
Despite a hectic and challenging world, made more complex by 9/11, we are today in a relative era of calm.
It is a calm before the storms that will inevitably come to our generation, just like they have come to all past generations and will come to those in the future — until God and mankind create a better world.
Arguably, the most important things we can and must DO in the calm before the storm is to prepare. Secondly, no type of preparation is more important than character and knowledge preparation — both of which are impacted by reading, writing, discussing and studying.
In 1764 George Washington didn’t do anything “big” to make a difference in society — except read and study and write and discuss great ideas. In other words, he prepared.
He had been at it for over five years by then, and would spend five more years just reading, studying and discussing great ideas before he would (perhaps before he could) do the big things. But when the storms came, he was prepared.
Nor did James Madison, Thomas Jefferson nor John Adams do the big things to make a difference in 1764. All three spent most of the year reading, studying and discussing the great ideas — in addition to the basics of making a living, going to school, raising families or living life.
But in addition to regular life, while most of their peers just made a living or went to school, they choose to do more: they read, studied, wrote, and discussed great ideas from the classics.
When the storms came their peers wondered what to do. But they already knew.
It was still hard, it still took everything their generation had to give, it still tested them to the depths of their bodies and souls — but they knew what to do because of what they had done in the calm: they had read, studied and discussed classics and history, in addition to living their normal lives.
Find a crisis or time of challenge in history, and you will find one of two things: either a nation with at least a few people who read, studied and discussed the classics in the calm before the storm, or a nation that failed to pass its tests, trials and storms.
I have found no exceptions in history.
Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln are examples. They prepared by reading, studying and discussing the great classics during the calm periods; when storms came they knew how to handle them.
Can you imagine the outcome of the American Revolution if the Founders hadn’t read and discussed classics? Or of the Civil War if Lincoln had just done business and politics but never spent hours and hours reading the great works? Or of World War II if Churchill hadn’t read the classics but just been a successful businessman or politician?
And the same applies to lesser known leaders and statesmen at the community and local levels. Application is essential; preparation is vital. And in the calm before the storm, preparation is even more critical than application.
Churchill even titles his history of 1919-1939 The Gathering Storm. And arguably the greatest folly of this period was that the leaders of the time were ignorant of or ignored the lessons of history and the classics.
Churchill himself spent much of this time trying to convince the leaders that the lessons of history needed to be heeded — lessons he had learned in the calm before the storm, lessons he learned in over a decade of reading, studying, writing, and discussing.
Reading, studying, writing and discussing is doing something. At certain times in history, it is the most important thing.
The real question is, are we doing it as well as the Founders? As well as Lincoln, Washington, Churchill or Gandhi? Or more to the point: are we doing it as well as we must? If not, we must improve. We must do better.
If we are doing as well as Lincoln or Churchill or Madison in our “calm” period of reading and learning, then we are DOING something indeed! And it will have consequences.
This is what Leadership Education is all about. Liberty, Prosperity and good government worldwide are a natural result of a world where people read, write, study, discuss and apply history and the classics.
If we do not do these things well, then our “calm before the storm,” our preparation time of the early 21st century, will likely be the same as other periods of history where reading, writing, studying and discussing classics was ignored — the beginning of failure in the storms ahead.
But I do not think so. I believe that in our generation, as in times past, just a small group of committed individuals can make all the difference.
Image Credit: salaud.
Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.