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Commentary from the Free Enterprise Foundation, Issue #08-7-- More Thought Provoking Commentary!
March 25, 2008
You are invited to read the latest commentary from the Free Enterprise Foundation. It will make you think!
By Robert E. Freer, Jr., President of The Free Enterprise Foundation
We Have Met the Enemy…and He is Us!
The late Walt Kelly, cartoonist extraordinaire, began drawing his column, Pogo, in 1943 and by 1950 his menagerie of creatures from the Ofefenokee Swamp felt like “family” for most of us suffering frustration caused by the flawed elite prancing on our national political stage. One of Kelly’s early characters was Simple J. Malarkey, based on Senator Joseph McCarthy, who searched the swamp for the legendary Presidential timber. But it wasn’t just conservatives who suffered the acid of his pen. He was an equal opportunity assassin bringing down those on the right or left who made it clear they knew better than the rest of us.
Pogo, a small marsupial of hazy ancestry, presided over the column’s mayhem, and was moved to say in 1971 while standing in a trash filled swamp with Porky Pine, “Yep, son, we have met the enemy, and he is us.” It thereafter became the motto for the column and the lament of much of its audience.
The human condition it laments is not merely a phenomenon of the second half of the twentieth century but endemic to our species. We are all flawed. So long as we aren’t sanctimonious, however, there is hope.
We have only to read the press from the day I am writing this to see this principle in action. Another miscreant has been caught in his own false superiority. Regrettably, I suspect given the manifold instances of his hubris, Governor Eliot Spitzer’s sorrow extends only to his being caught.
Human folly and feet of clay are built into our DNA. Character is built through humility and controlling our baser tendencies so those we love and those we lead can be secure in what to expect from us. This lesson has been learned too late, I fear, to help Governor Spitzer, but Pogo still reigns over the Ofefenokee for the rest of us.
In teaching cadets about ethics and leadership, I have often found myself in dialogue with them as to what is required for both ethics and leadership to flourish. Both virtues at their root require that we care for something or someone more than ourselves. Had the Governor not been caught up in his self love, his precipitous fall could have been avoided.
We could say our selfish interest is fulfilled by working to perfect our imperfection, but still, to make the struggle to overcome our momentary desires, we have to care more about those who will be hurt than our ephemeral pleasure. This is true because it puts us at war with ourselves which, unbridled, will always seek our own pleasure. We have to care more about those near and dear to us in order to prevail.
Most of us are too self absorbed to think seriously about the burdens of others, but for the discerning among us, affection for those around us is built on the respect and pride we feel for them and our emulation of their leadership. From their example we learn that adversity is to be smiled upon and not carried upon our sleeve. Whatever ill wind may blow, my mother’s old saying that “This too will pass,” I still find a useful nostrum.
Without Pogo to rely on daily, I am forced to find more conventional sources on which to rely for inspiration. In one of my columns several years ago, I quoted Ralph Parlette to the effect that “Strength and Struggle travel together; the supreme reward for struggle is strength. Life is a battle, and the greatest joy is to overcome. The pursuit of the easy makes men weak.”
In the absence of Pogo that bit of wisdom and St Francis’ prayer have been particularly helpful when I am feeling stressed. The prayer begins by asking, “Lord, make us instruments of your peace and goes on in its later stanzas to exhort: “Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
Occasionally while looking over my classroom, I consider how strange it is that the rigidity of the cadet system and particularly the stress of their first week as knobs are so effective in turning young men and women from the narcissism of adolescence to the loyalty and the strong identification with unit success. These are the hallmark of a polished cadet, but I have marveled at the dynamic of pain as the switch for the light bulb that we are all dependent on each other. There is, however, no doubt that The Citadel system works and has since 1843, and for that I am thankful. The Citadel continues to turn out not only well trained soldiers for our military but leaders in commerce and industry whom it has ingrained with those values that will fit them for the responsibility that comes with it. If anyone can lead us out of Pogo’s swamp, it is these young men and women of the generation that will graduate in May.
Copyright © 2008 by Robert E. Freer, Jr. All rights reserved
About the author: Robert E. Freer, Jr. is President of The Free Enterprise Foundation. He is a Visiting Professor, at The Citadel and elected in 2005 to be their first John S. Grinalds Leader in Residence. A regular contributor to the Mercury, He can be reached by E-mail at The Citadel . Copies of his earlier columns can be found The Free Enterprise Foundation. e Met the Enemy…and He is Us!
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