A Good Three

All in all, a pretty good few days for me. That’s how I judge it when I can honestly tell you that since the weekend, three clear insights have settled into my life. Three good things.

One was from a book review written by Daniel Richter, published in the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal. Richter reviewed two books written about war in seventeen century colonial America. Those books aren’t what captured my attention. Richter’s reduction of the idea of place is the thing that got me. He reduced or boiled down “place” to two positions in history and historical writing. One is place as a setting for the stories people tell. The other is place as a setting for memory of events that transpired there.

I was stunned to realize that Richter’s summary of place reflects my evolving use of place in my Walkshops. Without knowing it, I urge my participants to use both of Richter’s definitions—1) think about the different physical spaces or places in your leadership and 2) put yourself in the situation a leader occupies when a particular event unfolds at a particular place. Professor Richter, if we ever meet, the beer is on me!

Second was from a podcast where Professor Gordon Wood was the guest. Wood is an esteemed and elderly historian whose career has produced some of the best historical work yet on the American Revolution and Constitutional periods. In the podcast, Wood pointed out that the Jacksonian era presidents (1825-1860, loosely speaking) tended to dismiss the Revolutionary-era founders and instead looked to seventeenth century founders such as Winthrop and Bradford. He also defended vigorously the idea of history as I tend to frame it—a balance of the good and the bad.

It’s nice to know a few of us still exist who love the American Revolution and are committed to depicting the noble and ignoble aspects of the era. Also, I’m uncovering an expression of Wood’s point about Jacksonian presidents but in a slightly altered condition—my book on Abraham Lincoln will depict a unique moment when George Washington has re-emerged in the American mind. My research will show the power of Lincoln in refitting Washington as a central figure in American identity. Professor Wood, join Richter and me and I’ll add you to the tab!

Third was an old Firing Line episode hosted by the inimitable William F. Buckley. His guest on the show was Hugh Kenner, a well-known literary critic in the mid-1970s. As the show was nearing its end in a question-and-answer segment, Kenner stated offhandedly that the basic theme of the American novel is a how-to manual. Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” was long lesson in how to go whaling with other things woven into the content. Kenner contrasted this with the tradition of Russian literature as shown in War and Peace. Kenner said he had written an essay about the how-to nature of American literature but that the New York Times was holding up its publication. Left unsaid but rather evident just the same was Kenner’s irritation over the delay.

I freely admit that I’m as American as you can get when it comes to application, practicality, and usefulness. I’m happy and grateful when my clients at Historical Solutions say they’ve enjoyed one of my activities but I’m downright thrilled the same person says that he or she found my stuff had an impact on their lives as leaders. I would also emphasize to Kenner that “Autobiography” by Benjamin Franklin, often seen as the first self-defined American writing, was packed with how-to advice. Sadly, both Buckley and Kenner have passed away or otherwise I’d have them pull up extra chairs and order extra glasses at the table with Richter, Wood, and me.

Ever have a string of a few days when you just know you’ve hit on some good ideas or insights? Well, it’s been a few good days for me. Three good things!

Thanks for reading. All the best, Dan

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