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Thursday, December 01, 2011

Little Round Tops


TORCHING THE PPs. We all have some Little Round Tops of our own. I've had a few, not life-threatening to be sure, but threatening to my future and my career. The hard part is recognizing the ones that don't occur on the field of military battle. Where Joshua Chamberlain got lucky. He was a classics professor who somehow became a military commander, and it might have been easy for him to surrender in the face of impossible circumstances, but he didn't. His education made it possible for him to recognize the moment when it came. Shellfire is a big assist at such times.

This is much on my mind at the moment. My wife -- whose birthday it is today -- has a Little Round Top moment of her own right now. I know how she'll do. Hell, she's already fired the first shots from an encircled position. I gave her flowers for the big day only because I couldn't get her a keg of nails and a blunderbuss. It didn't take her a split second to see the moment when it came. Now we'll have to live with the results of the battle. Which will be my privilege, no matter how it turns out. And it could be very very costly. So. Be. It.

Because even the brave talkers have a way of missing the moment. They're sure they'll take action when the crisis finally comes, but then suddenly it's too late and what could they have done? Frustrated heroes. Because when it's too late it's too late, and all that's left is looking out for the family and not doing anything self-destructively stupid.

The crisis doesn't come with Hollywood movie titles announcing and defining the conflict. It comes suddenly but not always in Technicolor. It's here the moment you know you might have to take sides against a fait accompli, and when the people who are reassuring you that you're not involved or responsible are no longer friends but operatives of some other agenda that has nothing to do with friendship, loyalty, or integrity. That's the instant you should know you're on Little Round Top, most likely alone.

It's an instant most people miss. They don't want to know it. They're afraid. They massage themselves with their principles and promise themselves that if things get nasty, they'll do the right thing. And they mean it. They really really mean it until the opportunity to take action is hopelessly in the past.

How do you keep yourself from being surprised by a Little Round Top that swiftly passes you by? You look for Little Round Tops. As Joshua Chamberlain undoubtedly did. He wanted that moment of decision in his life. And, yes, that moment might kill you or blight your future life, but if you never confront a great decision, you will never know who you really are.

The good news is that military experience doesn't necessarily make you any better at recognizing such moments when they occur in everyday life. The bad news is that if you don't think you've ever had such an experience thus far, you almost certainly missed one or two or more of them. If you've become a defeatist by nature, that's tantamount to proof. You've never seen the moments when you might have made a critical difference. Which makes you a big part of the problem.



Too bad for you. But I freely concede everything is harder for GenXers and Millennials. You just never quite get anything until the key moment has passed. But you have learned a lot about the purely prudential use of language. Maybe that will pay off somehow. Someday.

Or not.







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