some things should not be forgotten

Earlier this week I was in Snowdonia. As regular readers of my blog will know, I spend a lot of time in the mountains of Snowdonia, as they are, in effect, a spiritual home for me. This time I was there for a different reason. I was being interviewed for my thoughts on leadership. The producer of the film, Tim Clague, thought it would be great to capture my thoughts on leadership, while actually leading a group up the mountain. I was up for the challenge.

While packing for our little adventure, I was rummaging through my bedside table drawer looking for my pen knife. I saw the blue case that holds my West Point class ring. On a whim, I opened it just to take a look at the ring. I don’t really wear it anymore. But on this occasion I felt compelled to put it on.

There is a power in collective talismans.

In our West Point class rings the principles of West Point are embedded as well as the memories of our cadet days.

And those days did indeed flood my consciousness. To deepen the connection, I found my Bugle Notes and flicked through them. And things I should not have forgotten, I felt compelled to remember.

Duty, Honor, Country are words we lived and breathed as cadets. They are small words, but the power packed into them is staggering. I could never do justice in explaining them so I will share with you General Douglas MacArthur’s eloquent words:

Duty, Honor, Country: Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying points: to build courage when courage seems to fail; to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith; to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.

Unhappily, I possess neither that eloquence of diction, that poety of imagination, nor that brilliance of metaphor to tell you all that they mean.

The unbelievers will say they are but words, but a slogan, but a flamboyant phrase. Every pedant, every demagogue, every cynic, every hypocrite, every troublemaker, and I am sorry to say, some others of an entirely different character, will try to downgrade them even to the extent of mockery and ridicule.

But these are some of the things they do. They build your basic character. They mold you for your future roles as the custodians of the nation’s defense. They make you strong enough to know when you are weak, and brave enough to face yourself when you are afraid. They teach you to be proud and unbending in honest failure, but humble and gentle in success; not to substitute words for actions, not to seek the path of comfort, but to face the stress and spur of difficulty and challenge; to learn to stand up in the storm but to have compassion on those who fall; to master yourself before you seek to master others; to have a heart that is clean, a goal that is high; to learn to laugh, yet never forget how to weep; to reach into the future yet never neglect the past; to be serious yet never to take yourself too seriously; to be modest so that you will remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, the meekness of true strength. They give you a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions, a freshness of the deep springs of life, a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity, of an appetite for adventure over love of ease. They create in your heart the sense of wonder, the unfailing hope of what next, and the joy and inspiration of life. They teach you in this way to be an officer and a gentleman.

You can listen to or read the full speech here.

I have started wearing my class ring again and I feel humble. I also feel a sense of renewed strength and idealism. The world suddenly seems much brighter and my footsteps more solid.

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