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The Pilgrims In Their Own Words

Our nation is in crisis. Our times are troubled. Our national memory has grown dim. We need to remember who we are. Thanksgiving is a perfect time for this. Take a few moments this holiday to ponder the words of our Pilgrim Fathers about their First Thanksgiving. It may be a first step toward recovering who we are meant to be.

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• In 1608, the Pilgrims left England for Holland to escape persecution by the Anglican Church. William Bradford, the Pilgrim’s chronicler and long-time governor, wrote that they had “as the Lord’s free people, joined themselves by a covenant of the Lord into a church estate, in the fellowship of the Gospel, to walk in all His ways made known…unto them, according to their best endeavors, whatsoever it should cost them, the Lord assisting them.”

• While preaching to his exiled congregation in Holland, Pastor John Robinson preached of his vision for the New World: “Now as the people of god in old time were called out of Babylon civil, the place of their bodily bondage, and were to come to Jerusalem, and there to build the Lord’s temple, or tabernacle…so are the people of God now to go out of Babylon spiritual to Jerusalem…and to build themselves as lively stones into a spiritual house, or temple, for the Lord to dwell in.”

• After 12 years living in Holland, the Pilgrims began to nurture a desire to take the Gospel to remote parts of the world. Bradford writes of their passion to reach the new world: “…a great hope and inward zeal they had of laying some good foundation, or at least to make some way thereunto, for the propagating and advancing the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world; yea, though they should be but even as stepping-stones unto others for the performing of so great a work.”

• They were carefully counting the cost: “…all great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and must be enterprise and overcome with answerable courages. It was granted that the dangers were great, but not desperate, and the difficulties were many, but not invincible…and all of them, through the help of God, fortitude and patience, might either be borne or overcome…[But] their condition was not ordinary. Their ends were good and honorable, their calling lawful and urgent, and therefore they might expect the blessing of God in their proceeding; yea, though they should lose their lives in this action, yet they might have comfort in the same, and their endeavors would be honorable.”

• They were willing to face hardship: “Yea, and as the enterprise is weighty and difficult, so the honor is more worthy, to plant a rude wilderness, to enlarge the honor and fame of our dread sovereign, but chiefly to display the efficacy and power of the Gospel, both in zealous preaching, professing, and wise walking under it, before the faces of these poor blind infidels.”

• The were particularly concerned for the conversion of natives in the New World: “And first, seeing we daily pray for the conversion of the heathens…it seemeth unto me that we ought also to endeavor and use the means to convert them; and the means cannot be used unless we go to them, or they come to us. To us they cannot come, our land is full; to them we may go…that they may be persuaded at length to embrace the Prince of Peace, Christ Jesus, and rest in peace with him forever.”

• After making arrangements for the voyage, their pastor, John Robinson, called a “day of solemn humiliation”.” Robinson preached from Ezra 8:21: “And there at the river, by Ahavba, I proclaimed a fast, that we might humble ourselves before our God and seek of him a right way for us, and for our children and for all our substance.” Robinson later wrote, “The rest of the time was spent in powering out prayers to the Lord with great fervencies, mixed with abundance of tears.”

• The majority left Holland to board their ships in England. Their godly Pastor, John Robinson, stayed behind to care for the elderly and infirm. He sent a letter with one of the leaders that was to be read as they boarded their ships. The words would repeatedly provide comfort and encouragement to them as their adventure unfolded.

We are daily to renew our repentance with our God, especially for our sins known, and generally for our unknown trespasses . . .[For] sin being taken away by earnest repentance ad the pardon thereof from the Lord . . .great shall be [a man's] security and peace in all dangers, sweet his comforts in all distresses.

• As they prepared to leave in 1620 “they knew they were pilgrims, and looked not much on those things, but lifted up their eyes to the heavens, their dearest cuntrie, and quieted their spirits.”

• The voyage on The Mayflower lasted 66 days. The ship was no longer than a volleyball court and the storms they sailed through sometimes laid the ship on its side, sometimes threw it high in the air only to slam it upon the water again. During that time of year the North Atlantic waters are so cold that the U.S. Navy estimates a man will live only three minutes if he falls overboard.

• For weeks at a time, the Pilgrims were forced to remain in the “tween decks.” One sailor repeatedly called them “psalm singing puke stockings.” They suffered all the effects of being tossed on the ocean for over two months — men, children, pregnant women, the elderly — but they always harbored in their hearts an earnest desire to be a “stepping stone of the light of Christ in a new land.”

• When they arrived, landing in a howling wilderness, Bradford wrote these moving words:“Being thus passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before in their preparation they had now no friends to welcome them, nor inns to entertain or refresh their weatherbeaten bodies, no houses or much less towns to repair too, to seek for succor. And for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of that country know them to be sharp and violent, and subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search and unknown coast. Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men? And what multitudes there might be of them they knew not. What could now sustain them but the spirit of God and his grace? May not and ought not the children of these fathers, rightly say: ‘Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness.”

• Because they had been blown off course by the storms and had not landed upon the land of their charter, the Pilgrims wrote a new charter, called the Mayflower Compact. It is the first binding covenant or constitution in American history. It states clearly why they sailed to the new world.

In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread sovereign lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland King, defender of the faith, &c, having undertaken for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our King and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic.

• But this unity was quickly challenged. Bradford wrote:

In these hard and difficult beginnings they found some discontents and murmurings arise among some, and mutinous speeches and carriages in other, but they were soon quelled and overcome by the wisdom, patience, and just and equally carriage of things by the Governor and better part, which clave faithfully together in the main. But that which was most sad and lamentable was, that in 2 or 3 months time half of their company died, especially in January and February, being the depth of winter, and wanting houses and other comforts, being infected with the scurvy and other diseases, and which this long voyage and their inaccomadate condition had brought upon them; so as there dyed some time 2 or 3 a day in the fore-said time; that of 100 persons, scarce 50 reminded.

And of these in the time of most distress, there were but 6 or 7 sound persons who, to their great commendations be it spoken, spared no pains, night or day, but with abundance of toil and hazard of their own health, fetched them wood, made them fires, dressed them meat made their beds, washed their loathsome clothes, loathed and unclothed them, in a word did all the homely and necessary offices for them which dainty and queasy stomachs cannot endure to hear named; and all this willingly and cheerfully without any grudging in the least, showing herein their true love unto their friends and brethren.

• Still, God’s grace was sufficient. English-speaking Indians named Samoset and Squanto helped the Pilgrims learn how to farm the land and harvest the bay. Squanto lived with the Pilgrims until 1622 when he died. His last request was that Gov. William Bradford would pray that he might go to the Englishman’s God in heaven. Bradford wrote: “Squanto continued with them and was their interpreter, and was a special instrument sent of God for their good beyond their expectation. He directed them how to set their corn, where to take fish and to procure other commodities and was also their pilot to bring them to unknown places for their profit, and never left them till he died.”

• Their next harvest proved the wisdom of Squanto. They had abundance of food for the first time. Governor Bradford called for a Day of Thanksgiving

Our harvest being gotten, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might, after a special manner, rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king, Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted; and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation, and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God we are so far from want that we are partakers of plenty.

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QUOTES FROM SPEECHES
ABOUT THE PILGRIMS AND THANKSGIVING

“Let us, in the midst of these reflections, have our hearts enlarged in thanksgiving to God, for his merciful favor to our fathers, and to us by their instrumentality. Let us piously acknowledge the hand of God, in all that has been done for them and us, and to the whole, cry grace, grace. With what strange gloom are our hearts filled, when we make the supposition, that all our fathers had been left to perish in their attempt! Proportionable to the dreadfulness of such a supposition, let our gratitude be, to our father’s God and our’s. And, out of gratitude to God, let us improve the blessings of life with sobriety, and maintain our liberties with an honorable Christian firmness.”

Charles Turner, 1773

 
 

“…let us not forget the religious character of our origin. Our fathers were brought hither by their high veneration for the Christian religion. They journeyed by its light, and labored in its hope. They sought to incorporate its principles with the elements of their society, and diffuse its influence through all their institutions, civil, political, or literary. Let us cherish these sentiments, and extend this influence still more widely; in full conviction, that that is the happiest society which partakes in the highest degree of the mild and peaceful spirit of Christianity.”

Daniel Webster, 1851

 
 

“Thus out of small beginnings greater things have been produced by His hand that made all things of nothing, and gives being to all things that are; and as one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here kindled hath shone to many, yea in some sort to our whole nation; let the glorious name of Jehovah have all the praise.”

William Bradford,Of Plimoth Plantation

Making Memories

November is upon us in a few days and, soon after, the holidays. Most of us are going to be too busy and will likely find ourselves looking back on all the dinners and parties wishing that we had enjoyed more human moments, that we had experienced the people we love more deeply.

I hope you find a way to simplify and slow the pace this holiday season. I hope you streamline so you have less work and more opportunity for what is meaningful and enduring.

I have another hope for you. In fact, it is more of a plea.

For just a few moments, allow me to appoint myself the guardian of your family’s heritage. I ask this only to help you avoid what I have seen this past year in the families of several dear friends. An older member of the family dies. It is the passing not only of a loved one but perhaps also of the last member of a generation in the family. The loss is great. Those left behind share memories over old photos and help each other grieve.

Usually, someone gets around to asking if anyone else ever captured video of the person who has passed away. People look at each other wide-eyed. No one did? It is horrible news. There’s no video of dad smoking his pipe or of Aunt Thedral telling stories from her Peace Corps days or of Mamma describing what she thought when each of the children were first placed in her arms—what she hoped, what she prayed, maybe what she feared?

The heartrending answer is too often, “No.” A family suffers loss and then finds there is no recording of the words that could have formed a defining blessing for grandchildren or captured a family’s witness to history—“You know, I just happened to be in Dallas that day the president was shot”—or chronicled the decisions that turned a family from its excruciating seasons: “I determined right then and there that I was not going to raise another generation of Jensen alcoholics.”

Since I’ve appointed myself guardian of your history, allow me to speak firmly to you: If you haven’t already done so, begin this holiday season to gently and respectfully capture your family heritage. Video the storytelling moments. Interview the ones with fascinating tales to tell and perspective on your family line. You cannot imagine what it will mean to you and those you love in years to come.

Let me offer some suggestions to help you get this done

  • You don’t need expensive equipment. A three-dollar app will do just fine. I use MoviePro for iPad. It’s simple, creates quality video and even has a “spy mode” if you need to hide what you’re doing from the self-conscious.
  • Practice in advance. Little would be worse than losing irreplaceable moments because you don’t know how to work your app.
  • Plan to be in obtrusive. The less visible you are, the more genuine people will be.
  • Shoot a variety of settings. Be sure to record those moments when everyone is sitting together and telling stories, but also try to take individuals aside for brief interviews when you think it will draw them out or allow more tender memories to flow.
  • Don’t get distracted. Someone else can record the touch football game or the belching contest. You are about heritage.
  • Plan your questions, keeping three goals in mind.
  • First, you want to record the personality of the individual. Mom, what is your funniest memory? What did Thanksgiving look like when you were young? Tell us the scariest moment of your childhood?  Who was your best friend? Where were you when you learned the president died? Where were you when you learned Joe was killed? What was your favorite food? Hideout? Movie?
  • Second, you want to elicit insights and language that can echo down through the generations in your family. This is shooting high, but give it a shot: Grandma, what have always been the best traits of us Carters? What have we had to overcome? When you worry about our future, what is it that troubles you?  What should we cherish most about our heritage? 
  • Third, try to capture loving perspective on the individuals in your family. Uncle Bill, when you first saw Jimmy, what did you think? Did my mother, your sister, ever share her hopes for Jim or describe him in a way you remember? What was she proudest of about him? What do you most admire about him?
  • Eventually, go wide. Ask big, broad questions that leave room for surprising answers. I make it a habit to ask what I call “fat” questions at the end of all my interviews, after the person is warmed up but before they tire. Aunt Sissy, if you had to use one word or phrase to describe our family through the years—and I mean the good stuff!—what would you say? 
  • Don’t hide from the hard things. Even troubling episodes can be recalled kindly and redemptively. One of my friends asked this: “Dad, I know grandpa spent most of his adult life in prison and I certainly understand why you don’t like to talk about it. But can you name just one good thing about grandpa that we can remember. Even if it is small, can you give us one happy memory you have of him? This father’s answer profoundly changed both my friend and his family.
  • Be kind. Don’t try to dig up dirt or elicit insults. Also, share your videos freely. Backup everything you shoot and make it accessible to your family. Dropbox is great for this. And if you plan to edit your videos into a single masterpiece, don’t take too long. People are eager to see what you’ve shot. Don’t be slow about editing and don’t be controlling about access. The memories belong to everyone in your family.
  • Finally, rehearse the good. Once you’ve started into this project—which may continue off and on for years–remind your son that your deceased father treasured him. Make sure you children remember the valor of their heroic World War II great-grandfather. Remind everyone that granddad and Uncle Jamey broke through the poverty of generations and sent the first Thompsons to college. These stories should live vibrantly in everyone’s mind. And don’t worry about the rolling eyes and deep sighs of bored children. They’ll remember—and they’ll be grateful one day.

In truth, what I’m urging is very simple. I’m asking you to make a record that allows you and your relatives to live out the great lesson of one of my favorite movies, The Lion King: “Remember who you—and your people—are!”

The Destiny Factor in Leadership

From the moment I began reading the lives of great men and women—until now, three decades of leading and training later—I have been fascinated by a force that seems to be always at the heart of heroic leadership: an unshakeable belief in destiny. After studying this dynamic for many years, I’ve come to a conclusion: A leader’s ability to understand the power of destiny and use it skillfully is a defining factor in how great that leader will be.

Read the lives of notable leaders from the past or listen carefully to effective leaders today and you will hear the tones of destiny echoing in their words and actions.

Examples are not hard to find:

  • Years after he became prime minister of England at the start of World War II, Winston Churchill recalled, “I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial…I thought I knew a good deal about it all, I was sure I should not fail.”
  • To white South Africans, Nelson Mandela once proclaimed, “We might have our differences, but we are one people with a common destiny in our rich variety of culture, race and tradition.
  • Abraham Lincoln summoned the best in a divided country when he insisted, “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.”
  • Even Lady Gaga incites her millions of fans with sentiments like, “If my destiny is to lose my mind because of fame, then that’s my destiny.”
  • And support him or not, Barack Obama moves hundreds of millions when he declares, “Hope is the bedrock of this nation; the belief that our destiny will not be written for us, but by us; by all those men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is; who have courage to remake the world as it should be

Most powerful leaders achieve because they believe themselves destined. They see themselves as moved by an invisible force. Many believe that God has determined their life’s path. Some have confidence in the forces of history. A few are convinced their lives unfold according to the will of their ancestors. What is import for our purposes here is that leaders with the power to change institutions usually believe that there is some prior determination about their lives and that this pre-determination comes with power to lead.

What this produces in a leader cannot be measured. Leaders who think themselves destined usually possess some remarkable traits.

  • They accept that they are unique. – They are not surprised when they have insight that others do not, when they enjoy exceptional privilege, when rapid promotion graces them or when suffering and tragedy touch their lives.
  • They see themselves as sent to serve. – The best leaders understand that they are blessed with gifts meant for the good of others.
  • They are courageous. – The great British religious leader George Whitefield said, “We are immortal until our work is done.” Destined leaders think this way. It is why Douglas MacArthur routinely exposed himself to machine gun fire to check on his troops during the First World War and why Martin Luther King Jr. marched openly before his rifle-bearing enemies. Destiny prevails, these men believed.
  • They see the issues of their time in mystical terms. – As World War II dawned, many world leaders spoke only of German rearmament and geo-political alignments. Winston Churchill spoke of the “Christian nations” answering the call of this “dark hour” to oppose “blackest paganism” and “win the world for our grandchildren and their children after them.” That is how great leaders think.
  • They see their followers as destined. – Wise leaders understand that most people yearn to fulfill their destiny more than they yearn for money, comfort or fame. Skilled leaders learn to summon the best from those they lead by appealing to the innate sense of destiny that resides in all human beings.
  • They frame objectives and vision in terms of destiny. – We aren’t just building a college for blacks students, we are building an institution that will change the God-ordained destiny of our race, said Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee. We aren’t just at war, said General George Patton, we are engaged in a contest between good and evil that God has chosen us to win. Lincoln said Now is the hour. It is destined. Steve Jobs said This is why we are in the world. Pope John Paul II said I am destined to suffer and teach the world about suffering. This is also how great leaders think.
  • They see the future as their responsibility. – Leaders who believe they are destined and who are entrusted with great power don’t usually think in terms of their generation only. They look to the future and accept responsibility for the state of the world that those yet unborn will inherit. This makes them impatient with failure, devoted to planning, passionate about building, eager to act against evil and determined to leave a benevolent legacy.

This can all be summarized in the phrase The Destiny Factor.  I think it is one of the most important perspectives on leadership that we can acquire. I’ll be writing more about this soon. I’m already speaking about it around the country and finding leaders hungry to know more.

Tell me how The Destiny Factor is shaping your life and leadership. You can do this by following me here: @MansfieldWrites

Bad News for America: Religion Enflames the Syrian Civil War

Religion is at the heart of the Syrian Civil War and this isn’t good news. It means that old animosities will likely survive any negotiated settlement or military solution. It means that while the rest of the world thinks in terms of an army, rebels and contested territory, the combatants think in terms of righteous warriors, a holy cause and the will of God.

It also means that the U.S. government is likely to handle it all clumsily. We don’t usually “do” religion well when it comes to international crises.

Americans tend to think of most wars in terms of their own Revolution. There is an oppressive ruler. There are an oppressed people. The people yearn for greater freedom and democracy for all. The oppressive ruler must fall so that a brighter day may dawn.

If only it were true. Instead, in the global upheavals of recent history, the ruler is often corrupt but still a necessary restraint on greater evil still. The rebels do want freedom but in truth that greater freedom means more power and wealth for themselves and genocide for their enemies. It is all more complex, more shaded in gray, and more tawdry than Americans often understand.

In Syria, religion enflames the current atrocities, though few in the wider world understand it. Most Syrians are Sunni Muslims. They hold to the historic teachings of Islam, believe that the leaders of the faith should arise from the Muslim community, and they look forward to the return of a Mahdi, a “rightly guided one,” who will restore the glory Islam to the world.

A smaller number of Muslims in Syria are Shi’ites. This minority believes that the true ruler of Islam is not an approved member of the Islamic community but an anointed descendant of the prophet Muhammad. They also believe the Mahdi is already walking the earth but is in hiding and they are deeply mystical about most other matters of faith.

We should know this because within these Shi’ites—only about ten percent of Islam worldwide—there is a tinier minority still. They are called the Alawites. They are a secretive sect of Islam whose practices are considered so holy that knowledge of them is often kept even from uninitiated Alawites. Persecuted during much of their thousand-year history, they have a fierce animosity for their Sunni neighbors. Not until the end of world World War I did their fortunes improve, though their hatred for the Sunni Muslim majority continued to seethe.

This brief sketch of a religion is required knowledge for understanding events in Syria today. The Assad family is Alawite. Much of the Syrian military is Alawite. Though the Syrian government under the Assads is officially secular, the Sunni majority in Syria has long suspected that the state serves the oppressive Alawite objectives of the ruling family. This is particularly infuriating to Sunnis since Alawites number only about twelve percent of the Syrian population.

Rumor is an effective tool of war in the Middle East and the rumor now swirling throughout the Arab world is that President Bashar al Assad has chosen this moment to destroy the Sunni majority. Thus his brutality with his fellow Syrians—or at least those Syrians not of his faith. Sunnis in the region are being summoned to rally to their Syrian brethren and fight against Assad’s forces. The boiling point is fast approaching.

These must seem like overheated religious imaginings to the average American family trying to get through an evening meal without being sickened by the Sarin-gassed corpses grotesquely displayed on the evening news. The truth is that this religious hatred is real and has shown itself again and again in Syrian history.

As recently as 1982, Hafez al-Assad, the previous ruler of Syria and the current president’s father, ordered his air force to bomb and his army to invade a Sunni Muslim town named Hama. The president’s brother was in command of the invading force and later boasted of murdering 38,000 people, most of whom were fleeing civilians.  New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman believes that the number killed was more in the range of 10,000 to 20,000 but that the larger issue is what he calls the “Hama Rule” by which the Assad regime now conducts itself. Total war, genocidal war—a degree of brutality that stuns Western sensibilities and stifles Western response—is the Assad policy. It is a boast, a sneering attempt to expose the cowardice of the West. It is horror in the service of religion.

These things do not die in the Middle East. They live on for generations. I was flying into Amman, Jordan, some years ago and noted to a Jordanian friend the official name of his country: “The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.” My friend explained at length that the Hashemites had once ruled Mecca. He then said, “And we want it back.”

He was not smiling. Remember that the Hashemites have not ruled Mecca for a thousand years.

So it is with the religious tensions in the Middle East and so it will be when Bashar al-Assad is dust. We are not witnessing an American-style revolution in Syria. We are witnessing carnage that is fruit of a culture in which hatred is holy.

Guest Blogger: Booker T. Washington

Screen Shot 2013-08-24 at 7.59.01 PMI was paging through one of my books a few days ago and I came across a vignette that pierced me. It was from Then Darkness Fled: The Liberating Philosophy of Booker T. Washington. I remember that I took this title from something that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said: So from an old clay cabin in Virginia’s hills, Booker T. Washington rose up to be one of the nation’s great leaders. He lit a torch in Alabama; then darkness fled.” This little bit of Mr. Washington’s wisdom caused some darkness to flee in me the day I read it, and I thought I would offer it to you as well.

 

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We should know our weaknesses as well as our strengths
if we would attain to the best in our civilization.

It is, perhaps, the most difficult challenge of a person, a nation, or a race. It requires the courage of a Churchill, the humility of a St. Francis, and the reforming zeal of a Wilberforce. Without it, the clouds of complacency blind the eyes and smother the conscience. Self-satisfaction is King, self-importance his throne, and self-congratulation Court Jester to all. Yet, when it is practiced and the hidden truths it unearths exposed in the light of day, it has a liberating power with which the great and noble are familiar but which the shallow and vain never know.

This vital tool of true freedom is self-examination, and Booker Washington knew it well. He lived by Plato’s dictum that “The unexamined life is not worth living,” for he believed that man was made for more than the immediate and the instinctual, more than mere existence. Washington knew that each man faces a choice: either give in to the “unbearable lightness of being,” living without consequence and depth, or pierce the veneer of existence through self-examination and, as Thoreau had written, “suck all the marrow out of life.” Washington chose the less traveled path and it did much to make him the man he was.

This capacity for self-examination marked the great strides that lifted Booker to the heights he achieved. Even as a boy, this ability to confront himself with who he was and therefore with who he was not made him realize the tragedy of his illiterate state. What he mined from the depths of his soul gave him the power to change, to teach himself to read. Then, as he worked in the bleak chambers of Malden’s coalmines, he saw his dreary possibilities in the stooped and haggard lives around him. He wanted more, knew that he had within himself the power to change, and it required little more than an overheard conversation about a school called Hampton to set him upon the path of his destiny.

What Washington practiced himself he also taught as gospel at Tuskegee: “It is a good practice for a person to get in the habit of making an examination of himself day by day, to see to what extent his thoughts have dwelt on those things which are high, and to what extent he has permitted himself to yield to the temptation of being low in his thoughts and imaginings.” This was little more than the historic Christian disciplines in practical application, yet for those who came from a near hand-to-mouth existence, the very idea of a “higher life” was a revelation.

Still, the principle had to be applied to more than just individuals if his people were to be set free and it is here that Washington faced some of the staunchest opposition of his life. When the slaves were freed, most black leaders wanted immediately to assume the status and comforts of white society. Washington took stock of the situation and concluded, “We aren’t ready yet.” The outcry against him was widespread and cruel, but Booker refused to probe his race with any less honesty than he did his own soul. “You cannot graft a fifteenth-century civilization on to a twentieth-century civilization by the mere performance of mental gymnastics,” he insisted. He knew that less than brutal clarity at the beginning of the journey toward freedom would only mean destruction and disillusionment later.

His people were behind, not because they were inferior but because slavery kidnapped centuries of progress. This was the truth and nothing could change it. They must acknowledge it and walk the path of “uplift.” To entertain lies from their own leaders or from manipulative whites would profit nothing. They must know themselves as they were so they could envision themselves as they could one day be.

It is an encouraging sign when an individual grows to the point where he can hold himself up for personal analysis and study. It is equally encouraging for a race to be able to study itselfto know its weaknesses as well as its strength. It is not in the highest degree helpful to a race to be continually praised, and thus have its weakness overlooked; neither is it the most helpful thing to have its faults alone continually dwelt upon. What is needed is downright, straightforward honesty in both directions.

No one is more irritating than the prophet. The prophet begins with a brutal vision of things as they are, and being a prophet speaks openly and crushingly of unvarnished reality. But having seen the present in its naked ugliness, the prophet is then empowered to envision a future of glory and, often, to describe the path from the one to the other. For this he is hated because most men live in the warm ooze of comforting illusions and bitterly resent those who disturb their peace. Still, because the prophet has himself been liberated from illusion by piercing self-examination, he tries, often in vain, to set at liberty those who least desire it. This was the lot of Booker Washington, and his call to transforming self-examination summons still a people bent on destiny.