Let's go slow

October 20th, 2017

My father-in-law was one of the wisest men I ever knew. He earned a high school degree from Kerens High School, and then he earned a post-graduate education overseas, primarily in Italy. A non-commissioned officer in the legendary 36th Division, he learned about life in places called Monte Cassino, the Rapido River, and other now-forgotten cemeteries of WWII. After 400 days of combat and five major battles, he came home, put the war behind him, and learned how to be a welder. Typically, he was no ordinary welder. When the utility company he worked for needed someone for exceptionally difficult or dangerous jobs, they called on Bill. He was known and respected by everyone in the company, from the CEO down.

Bill could fix anything. In all the years I knew him I never saw him call a repairman. On many occasions I would help him pull a washing machine or dishwasher out into the backyard and work on it, and this indelible image of him remains in my mind: He would light a cigarette, cup it in his hand as had been his habit since foxhole days, and proceed to “study the situation.” Then he would say, “Don, we need to remember that the slower we go, the faster we will finish.” In my mind, the truth of that statement ranks right up there with the second law of thermodynamics and Murphy’s law.

My father-in-law, legendary as he was among the many who knew and loved him, never saw himself on the national stage. But today I’m thinking that we need some of his wisdom in our country. Everyone is “hot” right now, from politicians to journalists to those who impulsively start typing out responses on some social media platform. Everyone thinks their answer is the answer; that those with whom they disagree are either stupid or immoral. Our divisiveness has created an ideological chasm that almost can’t be bridged by civil conversation. 

In a terrific new book titled Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times, Nancy Koehn describes the remarkable emotional intelligence of Abraham Lincoln. In the most difficult moments of his presidency, those times when he was tempted to lash out at his many enemies, he reminded himself to remain silent and calm, to wait for the emotional storm to pass. He was a flawed human being, haunted by melancholy and doubt, and yet his emotional discipline enabled him to steer the country through its most divisive chapter.

We have arrived at that moment when we need new role models in America. Perhaps we need to listen less to the pundits and politicians, and more to those whose wisdom was forged in places where hot tempers or poor judgment could be the difference between life and death. Maybe we need to “study the situation” more, and debate less. Bill would get a chuckle out of this, but I’m thinking that he and Lincoln would have been of one mind. The slower we go the faster we will recover the remarkable ideals that have historically bound us together as one nation. 

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