Spit Not Into the Fire

Published: September 22, 2008

By Jim Lichtman
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“These are the times that try men’s souls.”

At a time when the country’s spirit had been all but crushed by fear and despair; when “our affairs were at their lowest ebb and things in the most gloomy state,” British writer and American patriot, Thomas Paine rehabilitated America’s spirit through an essay entitled, “The American Crisis.”

Strapped with a war that has gone on longer than World War II, and an economy which will likely see a government-sponsored bailout that would raise the national debt to 11.3 trillion dollars, the country is facing its greatest crisis ever.

Pulitzer Prize winner James MacGregor Burns, from his book, “Leadership,” writes, “Leadership is leaders acting – as well as caring, inspiring and persuading others to act – for certain shared goals that represent the values – the wants and needs, the aspirations and expectations – of themselves and the people they represent.  And the genius of leadership lies in the manner in which leaders care about, visualize, and act on their own and their followers’ values and motivations.”

Both McCain and Obama have referenced the Founding Fathers in speeches throughout their campaigns.  Their purpose is to reconnect to the kind of principled thinking that the country was founded on.

But there’s one point that both candidates have overlooked:  the very same men that united the states, although at times bitterly divided on the details, worked together as a team.

In his book, “The Founding Fathers on Leadership” Donald T. Phillips details the lessons in teamwork from the crises faced by leaders like Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Franklin.  Among them:

  • “Remember that the diversity of skills in a great team exceeds those of any one individual.
  • “Endeavor to make fitness of character a primary object.
  • “Pull together as a team and take responsibility for your own situation.
  • “Changing times require new approaches and new ideas.
  • “Combine an optimistic attitude with a grounded reality in what the situation is – and what must be done to rectify it.
  • “Ability to Learn + Action = Effective Leadership
  • “Spit not into the fire.”

And there was one more vital ingredient the founders believed to be necessary.

“An enterprise can never be planned and carried on,” John Adams said, “without abilities [of skilled people].  [And those people must have] principle or they cannot have confidence enough in each other.”

“The Constitution,” Phillips writes, “created a culture that purposefully and intentionally forced both consensus-building and compromise.  It encouraged a process of achievement where everyone came out ahead, where progress was made.”

One of the most iconic images of Wall Street shows General George Washington standing across the street looking out, watching, perhaps forewarning the crisis of confidence we now face.

“In times of turbulence,” Washington said, “when the passions are afloat, calm reason is swallowed up in the extremes to which measures are attempted to be carried.  The man who acts from principle, who pursues the paths of truth, moderation and justice, will regain his influence.”

At a time when our country needed it most, our Founding Leaders were unified behind a common purpose and it was thatpurpose that caused them to act beyond their own needs and desires.

So, the question remains:  whether they remain in the Senate or rise to the presidency, which candidate will be the first to demonstrate real leadership?


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