Of a Hundred Takeaways From Gettysburg . . .


We went around the campfire, each sharing our views. It didn’t matter that some of the boys – or the lone girl, Paris – were 10 or 11 years old. We had all toured the battleground on Friday, most had read the book The Killer Angels, many had seen the movie ‘Gettysburg,’ and everyone had an opinion. People spoke about Stuart and Sickles and Lee whose errors were devastating. A couple of the boys expressed awe at Chamberlain’s heroism. Others talked about the amazing loyalty, the power of the Cause(s), or the suicidal nature of Pickett’s infamous charge.

Sheryl sat a third of the way around the circle of people offering their reflections. I don’t remember her exact words. But unlike my impressions of Gettysburg and the views I heard around that fire, it was her penetrating words that I can’t shake. She began by saying that she too admired the heroism and commitment, but what she could not get over was the war in the first place. How could they accept something that literally tore people and thus their families and their communities – and of course, their nation – apart? In the end, the reason we have united states is that there were more northerners, who had more money, more weapons and shoes and food. The intractable issues were not solved by grand reason or extraordinary feats of . . . negotiation. What a crazy way (six hundred thousand casualties) to resolve a dispute.

Sheryl’s point was barely touched upon as we proceeded around the circle to hear other impressions and views. Her question was perhaps too painful to ask, and too impossible to answer. Aren’t you grateful that you play on smaller fields than Lincoln and Davis, Grant and Lee played upon? But on our fields, how much ongoing pain exists, because we don’t ask the hardest question with our adversaries, or won’t wrestle with it long enough to yield some workable solutions? We instead choose our “wars” that bring many casualties. Companies dissolve as two partners both think they’re the principled one. Marriages collapse where each is absolutely convinced the other is wrong. Parties stalemate over budgets in business and government – where it’s too easy to be right and too hard to fully acknowledge the brutal realities and to engage in the intellectual war of negotiation to capture a shared win. Adolescents and their siblings (and their parents) suffer as they can find no way to bridge the differing world views that give rise to their Mason-Dixon line.

Like all the other guys I was with at Gettysburg, I was taken by the physical heroism, the strategies, the gambles and the gore. But the big takeaway was this: Do everything possible to avoid war – in my everyday leadership world. Perfect (lucky) timing: On this week’s Everyday Leadership radio show, we take up the topic of negotiation, building essential skills and knowledge to

Lead with your best self,


Audio: Of a Hundred Takeaways From Gettysburg

  • Here’s one of the most difficult challenges in taking up the “war” for peace–the behavioral economists, among others, can now point to the ways in which our brains are literally programmed to be hawkish. Without tremendous insight and care, the choice to use war will always appear the most effective and decisive, even when it is not. And “war” can include lawsuits, divorces that put children dangerously in the middle, and estrangement among family members. Negotiating conflict is hard, but so are the alternatives.

    • Thank you for recognizing that very significant comment asking “why war” around the compfire. What struck me as I read on was that you noticed little response from others and offered possible reasons why. I’ve come to wonder if our culture were to really focus on finding peaceful, constructive resolutions for many levels of differences, would children gradually learn a different way. Why do TV and movies play to the weakest side of human nature and reinforce violence? Is that “hawkish” programming of our brains a learned response that over time could reprogram/rebalance brains towards peace?

      • Great comments, Dale Ann and Ann. I think we’re learning from the biologists and neurologists that nurture turns into nature. What we learn and what we as a result do changes the way our minds work. We can learn new patterns through practice.
        We should all be about the business of not taking the bait – even when they fire on Ft Sumpter there may be another way. But continued attacks will breed more of the same.

  • I have actually thought about this notion a number of times, and oddly enough, I’ve thought about it in the context of the Civil War. One of my favorite authors, Bruce Catton, was from Michigan (born in Petosky in 1899 and lived most of his life in Benzonia). In one of his books about the Civil War, he devotes a section to the period leading up to the Civil War. Catton depicted the entire period leading up to the war as an inevitable march of time, in which Lincoln, almost reluctantly, accepted the fact that he would be president, and Robert E. Lee, a West Point graduate, turned down the position of head of the Union army, only to accept the same position in the Army of Northern Virginia as part of the Confederacy. Events today remind me of how most American leaders at the time looked on the upcoming war not as a choice, but as something inevitable, almost pre-ordained.

    And let me digress with a brief Gettysburg story that my family will remember. About five years ago, my family did a driving tour of the East Coast, going to Boston, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. We just happened to arrive in Gettysburg on Friday night going into the July 4th weekend (July 1-3), which also happens to be the anniversary of the battle there. Around 6:00 that evening, we decided to walk to the National Cemetary. Shortly after we arrived in the area dedicated to the Michigan soldiers who died in Gettysburg, we were asked if we’d like to put American flags on the Michigan headstones for the weekend. We were honored to do so. As each of us in my family put the small (perhaps 12-inch) flags next to each headstone in the Michigan section, we took a minute to read the name of the man (or boy) buried there, and thought about the sacrifice he made for his country. It was just by coincidence that my family happened to be there at 6:00 that Friday night, but I’ll never forget that honor, and I’m sure my wife and two teenage kids won’t, either.

  • Do everything possible to avoid war [but embrace conflict as opportunity] – in my everyday leadership world…


    I’ve read all of your columns, very informative. We’ve met a couple times. I worked in Washington, DC on Runaway Youth, Mentoring Children of Prisoners and the Federal Mentoring Council.

    In my past I had the privilege of training new youth workers. One of the teaching points was the Chinese symbol for crisis which is also the symbol for opportunity. I think this applies to your point.

    …where it’s too easy to be right and too hard to fully acknowledge the brutal realities and to engage in the intellectual war of negotiation to capture a shared win.

    I think the “intellectual war of negotiation” is the opportunity most often lost. Rather than a strength based approach with admiration for the strengths of each side, we too often seek to exploit the weaknesses or deficits. It’s not much of a war when each side is interested in what they can do together.

    I really enjoy your notes and column. Keep up the great work,
    Harry Wilson
    Albion, MI

  • For me this is a timely observation coming on the heels of reading “The Anatomy of Peace”. The question of how to address conflict without being in conflict rests at the core of this book. It provides a very interesting premise that most conflicts are the result of internal individual conflicts that fail to allow people to see their “enemies” as people, but instead as objects.

    I think there is some truth in coming to a situation not with a photographic recall of all the grievances one has suffered, but instead with a mind open to the opportunity to expand and grow a better future which will if not eliminate the old wrongs reduce them for future opportunities to negotiate.

    Jeff Croff

  • As we look at war, and sometimes its inevitability, I remind people to consider who they are negotiating with. When negotiating with a person who will understand your position as well as theirs you may be able to get through all the heavy lifting of negotiation to a positive outcome. But if you are negotiating with someone who only wants their way and does not care for yours (I call them bullies), the best you can do is to match strength with strength and be strong in your resolve and try to draw them to a place of understanding.

    But to cede to a bully, and obtain momentary agreement is appeasement, delaying the inevitable. Consider the costs of delay, as it is usually higher. But to treat a person who ready to consider your side as if they are a bully is truly dishonorable. For every person wishes to be treated with respect.

    • What is the value in labeling someone a bully? Does that dehumanizing judgmentalism give us permission to act in ways that are otherwise unacceptable? This is what typically happens in war. The labels “kraut” or “Cong” or “slant-eyes,” like the label “bully,” made some feel justified in blowing them away in war.

      In the book _Radical Collaboration_, the authors encourage us to ask ourselves what we want–to win a battle? Or to be able to sustain a long-term relationship?

      I get your point about healthy relationships. Certainly I do not condone enabling dysfunctional (bullying) behavior in others. Maybe we could re-frame it as remembering that we have power. If someone is treating us in unacceptable ways, we have the power to withdraw from the relationship! In fact, that may be the only healthy way to respond to a sociopath’s controlling behaviors. When sociopaths get no “reward” because we haven’t given them permission to mistreat us, they seek a different potential victim. No need to blow them away with an Uzi… at least in my opinion. And when everyone refuses to play their sick little “I’m okay; you’re not” games, then maybe they can learn to play “I’m okay; you’re okay.” And then, maybe we can all live together in peace… or so I hope, silly me!

  • Dan, another great observation shared- and a reminder about a couple of things.

    First, regarding Sheryl’s thoughts, we can not truly understand the context of the times as the people who lived them did. Their knowledge and values cannot be made to match our own knowledge and values, but we can learn from them. Our perspective over the centuries can only be made in the present context, so with constant disbelief about others’ decisions and actions, we ask different questions and choose a better path, if we are wise like Sheryl suggests.

    Second, to your point about challenging our adversaries, I am reminded of Chris Argyris’ work about organizational defenses and skilled incompetence. Humans inside systems still do not communicate fully with allies when we have low trust and it runs rampant in most enterprises. Seldom do people inside teams truly discuss the un-discussable subjects and thus cover up the real power of what “we” know as our truths on any team. I agree with your point about truly working to resolve disputes to avoid wars in families and organizations, especially when we all say we are on the same side; let’s tie our actions to our espoused values!

    Thanks again for another encouraging article Dan!

    • Dennis,

      Your comment about the present context is interesting. Isn’t it also true that the past and present are sometimes not so distinct? For example, the incredible pain and loss of the Civil War (or World War I for Germany) does not end with the funerals. Resentments build up. Are the United States fully united? Reconstruction and a century later the Civil Rights movement continued to play out our unfinished business. Dr. King’s non-violent engagement was a kind of heroic leadership that ate away at the built up resentments and judgments. Of course, lives were sacrificed then, too.

      Your point is still true: try in our present context to understand – and not repeat – the past. But I wonder if the past doesn’t “bleed” into our present and make it hard for us to see straight.

      What’s the reference for the Argyris stuff? It sounds intersting.


  • Waging Peace is the name of a book by President Eisenhour.

    War happens when compromise or tolerance is no longer considered possible. People will die for some things, or if not die, then defend their organizations, political parties, businesses to the end; not matter how clear it may be that the busienss is failing and changes need to be made. And so businesses die, and political parties die, and otoher organizations die in a battle to defend outmoded systems of thought, commerce, politics.

    Right now we are seeing a war in the Republican Party: Who will win, the arch conservative/ far right/ “free market”/ gun rights/ pro-lifers; versus the traditional progressive, low taxes, low government involvement in our lives people; or will the party die? The list of issues above of course indicate a problem, in that with so many single issue members a party may be a house divided which will not stand.

    War and the killing of a system, whether by suicide or battle may be the only resolution of humans with beliefs, instead of reasoned belief. See Faith and Reason by Pope John Paul II.

    • Mark John,

      I’ve been thinking a lot about this point – in the context of the Civil War, the ideological wars in the state legislature, and the clashes of institutions (e.g., newspapers or auto manufacturers) with their stakeholders during times of huge change.

      Your line “war and the killing of a system, whether by suicide or battle my be the only resolution” is sort of chilling. But the work of engagement, when both parties are hurt, scared, and frustrated/angry – whether in a tough marriage, a tough Michigan economy, or a tough labor dispute – is the critical work that we need to build the skills and zen-like attitudes to go after.

      Good thoughts.


  • Dan, I was present at the Non-profit Network Conference where you spoke at lunch–“took away” much from your presentation. This is the first of your blog I’ve receieved.

    Sheryl’s statement leapt off the page at me: “How could they accept something that literally tore people and thus their families and thus their communities — and thus their nation – apart”?

    This question seems to apply even more literally to abortion than military war. Please note, I am not, nor have ever been, an activist and this is my first blog(!!). But I am a nurse and a mother who cannot understand “how WE accept something that literally tears babies and thus their families, and thus their communities–and thus their nation– apart.

    • Nancy,

      I agree that as a society, we are not really addressing the topic of abortion. Many people, particularly those who are dependent on being elected by the public (or those who have political talk shows on the radio or TV), have seemed more interested in using the topic as a political issue than we have in working together to solve it. We should be working together to ensure that unwanted pregnancies do not occur in the first place … and I would think that 99 percent of the population would agree with that. But some people have determined that it’s a bad idea to provide education or take other actions so that unwanted pregnancies don’t take place.

      There are good people on both sides of this topic. It’s important to have a dialog so we understand the other side, and to working out solutions.


      • Nancy and Tony,

        Thanks for engaging. This is a great issue to seek some common ground and mutual understanding.

        Go for it! A topic ripe for everyday leaders!


  • Dan–
    The real answers to war:
    There is a fascinating exchange of letters (available on the internet) between Einstein and Freud on ‘Why is War’. Their comments are less impressive than I wish. There are so many compelling answers or opinions about the question of war. A significant comment comes from Lao Tzu who said: “The best way to deal with your enemies is to make them your friends.” If people can appeal to one-another’s own & shared interests, a humanizing effect ensues. I believe this is the implied approach that the country is trying to take.
    Peace, kindness, strength, gentleness and wisdom be with you.
    Jerry Leismer

    • Jerry,
      Thanks for the challenging comment.
      I was attacked on the radio today. I called in and lashed out.
      One of my mentors (a cellist who loved music) used to say, “you answer a tuba with a tuba, not a picolo.” That was my justification. And it felt good – a guy thing. But I could have done better.
      Thanks for the Lao Tzu.

  • War in whatever form it takes, will exist until; we each release the need to be right, find a way to make ourselves believe that we are “enough” i.e., strong enough, smart enough, good enough to not feel threatened by someone else being those things too. When we truly desire peace more than war, we’ll stop yelling at the store clerk for changing the register tape when we’re in a hurry, stop ranting at the kids for not making straight A’s, and drive patiently through construction zones without cursing about the Mayor (my personal challenge). I think we are a society who both works and plays hard. We raise our children to “work” for their place in the world; to express ourselves openly or creatively, we need to “work” at not being offensive or “work” at being good. But somewhere along the line, “work” was hard, and we told ourselves to fight against our mental “can’t,” or to “fight for our rightful place,” or to “fight” through the pain. I think at that point, “work” became synonymous with “fight” and now we fight for everything, including peace. There always seems to be so much at stake in life – so many big things that require our purest passion, our “why can’t they see this…” attitude, and we think we need to change the world by changing each other. As soon as we use that strategy, what we’re saying to each other is, “the problem with you is…” and there starts the offense – because each of us needs to feel that we’re ok. I really believe that if we could all relax with each other and focus on “the thing,” the issue – rather than making it about the person – humans tend to collaborate rather well. But the focal point has to be something external of your personal desires and it must serve the greater good. Whatever the issue, if we each have the opportunity to see ourselves in it, we can reach conclusions that would astound us. But it starts with what you can control – yourself – your views, your flexibility, your willingness to stay focused on the common good as a priority rather than your personal desires. So you go home, you love your children, pet the dog (or cat), interact with your neighbors and look for places where you can make a difference in other people’s lives – that may inspire them to keep the circle moving. If gossip can travel through an organization like an infection, why couldn’t peace and cooperation and respect? Do we offer the inspiring information with as much enthusiasm as we do the negative? Try going for an entire day with absolutely no sarcastic or negative comments. For a single day, try to turn someone else’s negative conversation into possibility and see where the lightness of those conversations take you.

    I tried it last week. Almost killed me.

    Good job on this one!

    • Oralya,

      This WordPress makes for some long paragraphs!

      I think this is a briliant commentary.

      When we’re in a hot negotiation, it’s cuz stuff matters. And we bring all of our humanity – including our fear that we can’t make it work and will lose everything (GM, our labor followers, our next election, our “control” over our kids, etc.). So it connects to all our deep fears that we’re out of control.

      Then it gets easy to feel attacked and feel justified in attacking back.

  • Dan,

    I hope you write about some issues from your radio show regarding negotiation in your next RFL.

    Although I don’t consider myself an expert, I have read a number of accounts about the Civil War and try to catch the documentaries on PBS and the History Channel when they are televised.

    While I recognize that attitudes and traditions were diffenrent than they are currently, I keep asking myself what were they (the Northerners and Southerners) thinking when they decided to pursue such carnage. In my opinion, the struggle for eradicating slavery may have been less important than the struggle to keep alive an industry (cotton and textiles) which relied on cheap, actually free, labor, and it seems from historical accounts that I have read the entrenched positions each side took on their interests left no room to compromise. How ironic that the debate has turned full circle and now we have Southern Congressional Representatives and Senators who appear to be gleeful that the american auto industry and the manufacturing intimately connected to it is going into the tank. I often wonder if the hostile attitude we see presently manifested by Southern Legislators was characteristic of Northerners in the years and decade prior to the Civil War. Imagine if the combatants had seriously examined each others interests and and explored alternatives that may have produced desired results such as freedom and recoginition of human dignity while also protecting and growing the industry so crucial to the Southern Economy. The loss of the tremendously talented human beings who fought in that epic war retarded the growth of this country and I believe prevented our nation from reaching greatness far earlier than we have achieved.

    • Jim,
      Well put. How do we take the skills and knowledge that you have as a negotiator and drive that into our consciousness and into our skill sets?
      Everybody needs the skills of great negotiators!

  • I was struck by the shallow, emotional works used to prime the children. There was more to it than was credited. Two different philosophies, upon which much treasure depended contested. Was America for free labor or unfree? Were all men created equal or not.

    It was not only a lack of shoes that lost the shooting War for the South. It was their state of mind, that they had a moral right to enslave others for money.

    The Civil War is not over. The federal government is now supreme over the states, but individuals lost and continue to lose.

    The concept that destruction builds is very American. We force others to do our bidding because we no longer believe what we say ourselves. When our own governments think it appropriate to keep secrets to stay in power, to lie and to manipulate so polls justify any course of conduct, it is not a lack of negotiation that is the cause of war, but the lack of a reasonable alternative.

    What is lacking is integrity, honor and personal accountability to a higher code, the Constitution.

    You can’t negotiate with a liar, a bully, a thief or a con artist. But everybody else would do wise to learn what you are teaching as well as how to recognize and to spurn the former.

    • John,
      You wrote this fascinating line: “The concept that destruction builds is very American.” The oxymoron is a great way of unearthing the idiocy: “destruction builds.” I don’t agree that American holds any corner on that market. The Chinese in Tibet, Soviet Union throughout Eastern Europe, Napoleon in his day, Hitler, etc., they all thought that destruction was the way to “build an empire.” So much of our (male?) language continues to replicate this falsehood – that destruction builds.

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