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"The March to Valley Forge" by William Trego

"The March to Valley Forge" by William Trego

A painting of General George Washington preparing the Continental Army to march to Valley Forge hangs ominously in my office.  A subtle yet ever-present reminder of one of the most critical winters in American history, the successful handling of the time at Valley Forge turned the tide of the Revolutionary War and laid the cornerstone of the American ethos.

Washington maintained his dignity and sense of honor while providing leadership in the most tumultuous and tenuous years of our nation’s childhood.  He strove to bolster the newly born republican institutions and to build public trust in government while leading his army through years of defeat and deprivation.

General Washington, amongst his manifold achievements in life, removed any doubt in the mind of man that there is strength in humility.  Washington wrote extensively during his entire career and one particular letter written to Henry Laurens on January 31, 1778 leapt from the pages to my heart last evening.

Washington was regularly under fire from Congress and early January 1778 was no exception.  He wrote after being warned by Mr. Laurens of enemies seeking his demise: “I was not unapprized that a malignant faction had been for some time forming to my prejudice; which, conscious as I am of having ever done all in my power to answer the important purposes of trust reposed in me, could not but give me some pain on a personal account; but my chief concern arises from an apprehension of the dangerous consequences, which intestine dissentions may produce to the common cause.”  Isn’t his writing beautiful?

Washington continues: “My Heart tells me it has been my unremitted aim to do the best circumstances would permit; yet, I may have been very often mistaken in my judgment of the means, and may, in many instances, deserve the imputation of error.”  Again, isn’t his writing lovely?  How often I wish I could have clothed my thoughts and feelings with words so perfectly chosen and arranged!

There is no harm in always leaving room for the possibility that your perspective may be limited, even if you have done your very best.  Humility averts the pitfalls of hubris, prejudice and fanaticism.  Humility is the harbinger of nobility and dignity.  In true humility lies a fountain of inexhaustible strength and determination.

Washington revealed that he knew of the waters of the fountain of humility through his writings, his words and his actions.  What harm is there in allowing for the possibility that you may have been wrong, in everything you do?  Some fear that their enemies will gain advantage as humility is often perceived to be akin to weakness, but true humility has nothing to do with weakness.

Humility is not self-deprecation.  Humility is not assuming a lowly posture to give the appearance of meekness.  True humility is both revealed and strengthened by an unwavering sense of self, a flexible confidence in one’s abilities and perspective and an assurance in action as your best foot is put forward.

Think of ways you can open the door to a more refined expression of humility through you.  “If my perspective is correct…,” “I may not be seeing the whole picture but my impression is that…” and “Here is what I think we should do.  Do you see a more effective approach?” can gradually replace the inflexible, inconsiderate, immoderate and fanatical approaches that tend to be taken when opinions are voiced and tempers flare.

Be willing to accept correction gracefully and graciously, place great value on the perspective of others and harness the power of humility.  Naught but blessing will come of it!

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I came across a quote today that would, if heeded, save a great many men and women a great deal of trouble.  The 16th President of our United States, Abraham Lincoln, spoke these profound, yet simple words:

Abraham Lincoln

“I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong.”

Achievement is not success unless it is grounded in righteousness.  Likewise, an accomplished life comes not from a stack of achievements, but from virtuosity in the expression of life.  If you find yourself tempted to take a shortcut to achieve a desired end, caveat emptor, for such enterprise will dim the light that you have.

So often friendships are born of mutual likes or even mutual dislikes.  Deep and lasting friendships, however, are built on a foundation of blessing and generation.  Few people are willing to let their lives be ordered according to this principle.  As a result, their relationships are clouded by the reluctance to “part with him when he goes wrong.” 

Nobility requires decent boldness.  Be prepared to stand alone if you must to stay true.  On this basis and only on this basis is a victorious life assured.

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Dr. Maya Angelou

I couldn’t resist one more post about Dr. Angelou.  Her charm and wit have captivated me for years and I feel compelled to share her insightful work with my fellows.  This poem was written following an experience she had while visiting a local health food store.  The store had a small diner that served the usual healthy dishes, but Dr. Angelou noticed that she rarely noticed anyone smiling in the health food store, especially her waitress on this occasion.

She was so moved by the results of fanaticism – even though it was in relation to supposedly healthy things – that she wrote this pleasant and humorous little poem called “The Health Food Diner.”

No sprouted wheat and soya shoots
And Brussels in a cake,
Carrot straw and spinach raw,
(Today, I need a steak).

Not thick brown rice and rice pilaw
Or mushrooms creamed on toast,
Turnips mashed and parsnips hashed,
(I’m dreaming of a roast).

Health-food folks around the world
Are thinned by anxious zeal,
They look for help in seafood kelp
(I count on breaded veal).

No smoking signs, raw mustard greens,
Zucchini by the ton,
Uncooked kale and bodies frail
Are sure to make me run

to

Loins of pork and chicken thighs
And standing rib, so prime,
Pork chops brown and fresh ground round
(I crave them all the time).

Irish stews and boiled corned beef
and hot dogs by the scores,
or any place that saves a space
For smoking carnivores.

If you’ve been “thinned by anxious zeal” at times in your life this poem is probably worth re-reading.  Fanaticism with respect to anything quickly erodes the experience of life.  Look at any example of extreme nationalism or perhaps the more dogmatic branches of religion and you see that zealotry constrains to hatred, isolationism and self-destruction.

On occasion you might benefit from letting your karma run over your dogma.  Even if all that you get out of it is a good start to a country song, it’s better than the alternative.  Loosen up a little, try something new.  Do the little things in your day slightly out of order or with a different hand.  Treat those around you with a new and genuine deference.  Do anything to limber up the tense and rigid areas in your mind and heart so that life can again course through your veins without constriction.

Wellbeing is not a static state obtained through steely determination.  True health is the result of constant adjustment, continual adaptation to the circumstances at hand.  It is not a fixed and rigid place devoid of pleasure.  Neither is it achieved through gluttony and hedonism.  Wellbeing is found not at the extremes, but somewhere in the middle.

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