What does this say to you? Abraham Lincoln had only about a year of formal schooling. George Washington was schooled by his father, until the latter died when Washington was eleven years old. His schooling ended then.
Our two greatest presidents – who led the country through its two most treacherous times – were both enormously learned, voracious readers and bibliophiles, yet with almost no formal education. What’s that say to you?
To me it says, “Shut up!” With the extraordinary resources of the internet, of libraries, and bookstores, we are so blessed. What CAN’T we learn? What new career, language, skill, knowledge, trade, or business lies beyond any of us? None, unless we think it so, or unless we lack the drive and the discipline and the overarching purpose to improve ourselves to become better-for-others.
If you’re looking for inspiration, look no further than Washington and Lincoln to encourage you to
Lead with your best self.
Response to this week’s RFL:
That’s as long as we’re not scrounging for survival . . . walking the streets looking for the next returnables or a handout or warmth. So ‘shut up’ is a bit overstated and, from my perspective, rude. I’ve read your articles for some years and I am disappointed with this one. I get your point. It could have been said differently. And do you think that ‘privilege’ had anything to do with them. Now there’s a subject to tackle.
Thanks for the feedback. Hope you’ll take a look at the clarification you prompted. Also, privilege is a good topic. I agree with you on that!
I have always read your RFL as an expression of what is in your heart and many times an outward conversation with yourself ….to my benefit.
I related to your initial words. I am a person who at times has to tell her ungreatful lips to “shut up” to listen to the gratitude in her heart.
So……..continue to say what you really mean.
First of all, Dan, thank you for bringing up a point that is forgotten too easily, opportunities still abound for those willing to put in the time and the work. It is hard, things don’t go according to plan, results aren’t immediate. Times change, Laws change, expectations change. The magic word: CHAMGE. How does one handle change? EDUCATION! At no other time in history has education been more available and accessible. Are we open enough to continue learning throughout our lives? Do we get a degree and become stagnant? Folks, our forefathers didn’t fight for this great country for “good enough”, they fought for “great”! They saw tougher times than we ever had. Nothing in life is guaranteed. So we adapt, we change, we learn. Are we open enough to face down the “can’ts” , toss away excuses and move forward?
hmmmm….so if the good folks here don’t like your version of reality, your perspective of truth, it gets closed out. I find this a bit alarming, not because I feel ‘at risk’, but rather, in context to this censured perspective, it was his statement that was provocative enough for a follow-up RFL posting by Dan.
I guess someone else’sviews that differ from your own are too scary to be allowed to stay visible to all!??
This is the last time, I am going to say this to you publicly: I don’t censor comments. Every time the WordPress software has blocked you (or anyone else) I have “approved the remarks.” I’m now figuring out why WordPress decides to exclude heavily “disliked” views. If they are basically relevant, I want them included.
I get very weary when you continually insinuate that my motives are untoward, because this is a space for trusting people who for the most part assume good faith. I respond to you, and I get absolutely no recognition of my response. I feel frustrated because it feels to me you continually demand respect, which you deserve, yet do not offer respect in return.
I LOVE that you raise issues, but if you are open to some coaching, I would encourage you to find ways to present your views that human beings like me – who are just trying to do their best – are not prone to take as attacks. I’m a paying sponsor of an open blog. Not a censor.
Having said that, I am now going to be very clear with you: the next time that you accuse me of censoring you, I will. In my view your complaints are becoming a big distraction from the underlying issues. So, I invite you as a fellow learner to develop a more positive style. And I am telling you as the “authority” of this blog that if you choose to attack, your views will not be published.
I think that you right, there is a lot of information and resources about almost any subject out there.
However, I do think it is critical to have a guide to help you sort through all of the information. I am speaking of finding a mentor or mentors, someone who is in the field already and willing to teach.
I have found a mentor and she has been invaluable in helping me sort through the endless information that is out there.
It is your opinion, not fact, that Lincoln and Washington were our ‘two greatest’ presidents. I do not need to look to them for examples in leadership….not when a truer statesman came before them, whose ideals regarding the formation and direction of this country he was integral in creating….that of a true statesman and patriot, Thomas Jefferson. You may want to us those vast resources available to you to learnmore about his political thoughts. Maybe even take a moment away from your priveleged life to assist a homeless person find warmth in the cold of a winter night……without asking the nanny state for an additional round of ‘stimulus’ monies funding to be appropriated to some huge non-profit/political crony for a feasibility study first.
an affirmation to what I posted above….re: CENSORSHIP
Mark – So you’re trying to sell Dan something? An automatic censor? Something you dislike? And you think this is the way to do it–by criticizing Dan publicly and endlessly? Maybe you need to take a course in sales training. Alienating prospects is not a good way to establish long-lasting, mutually-productive business relationships.
What it says to me is in three parts: 1) formal schooling or education is different from learning; 2) what we do with the knowledge we learn is more important than just knowing, and 3) we can all choose to continue learning well beyond our own purpose to make a positive impact on the lives of others.
Thanks for another provocative Reading for Leading entry.
As a pastor and life coach I believe this is one of the best thoughts you’ve had. When will we stop our whining and get on with leading. The responsibility is not in the hands of a few but in all of our hands. This was never intended to be an entitlement nation. As long as I have neighbors I can be a generous man and serve. A job doesn’t usually come to me but rather I have been led to new opportunities. Eminent threats and compelling opportunities both can lead to great creativity and thinking. Now is the time for both regardless of how you see things. Thanks Dan.
Thanks for including libraries in your statement this week! We are still, as Carnegie noted, “The People’s University”. We don’t care if you’re rich or poor – only that you respect our materials and the rights of others while you are here. As a public librarian, I see people learning here every day, trying to better themselves. Many use us as a resource to find a way out of unemployment, or to a better job. Thanks again for remembering us – we are often forgotten.
I got your use of “shut up” right away probably because I have teens and early twenties for kids.It passed right by me. Appreciated the second RFL, it made your point even better.
I enjoy your column each and every Monday. “Shut Up” seemed a great use of cognitive dissonance on this snowy day–a nice reminder that sometimes we need to be quiet and listen–or read, ponder, and soak in critical information.
You’ve added greatly to my reading list, especially in the past few weeks, and I much appreciate the reminder! Despite a strong believe in continuous education, I still need those reminders.
All for the best!
Re: your followup. I don’t think one can call George Washington “not privileged.” He was born into one of the richer families of Virginia (he was born in a mansion and
the mansion was located in a district of Virginia named Washington Parish for his family) and used his family connections to get various appointments in his 20s.
Washington was notably energetic, hardworking and brave. But he started with a lot of advantages.
You are certainly right about GW.
I believe our use of privilege is helpful in terms of social constructs, but I’d say the greatest privileges I’ve had in life flowed most from the wonderful humanity of my folks. The fact that GW lost his dad at 11 surely counterbalanced much of that privilege.
Our relative historical privilege is stunning. George lost one child at 17, I believe to epilepsy and his son at Yorktown. We live in a highly privileged time.
Thanks again for the historical corrrection.
A little less political correctness and more “honest” communication. Just like the first Reading for Leading. Thank you Dan.
Are we too distracted looking for personal affronts, Michigander, to see the power in Dan’s message about self determination? This perspective changes the discourse from “What can I do to better myself?” to a pointless distraction. Michigan and Michiganders will need to find a new resolve in order to reinvent themselves. It will require a toughness and resolve I know they possess. Don’t back down, Dan! Leadership is tough work and many times people need to hear precisely what they don’t want to hear!
Take a look at http://www.mountvernon.org/learn/meet_george/index.cfm/ss/21/
To say that George Washington was “not privileged” is both factually incorrect and naive. Born to one of the leading plantation owners, he lived a life of privilege, despite what you may state. He was educated by private tutors in his early life and went away to a private school until the age of 15.
While your point is well taken, it doesn’t help to make it using false statements.
Thanks for the factual additions Gary.
Here’s what I learned today…
1. The first-gentleman believes that “shut up” has now become a phrase that can easily be tossed around. Where have our standards gone? Will we see the f-bomb next week? Kids use that all the time too. It can be explained that “I meant it the way kids these days will say” it.
2. If Washington and Lincoln can be self educated, why does the Governor insist on Promise Scholarships from a budget that has no money and from a people who are already overtaxed?
3. In his subsequent apology for using the term… the first gentleman provided us wiht the way he views our educational system ranking it by saying 1) private schools 2) charter schools and finally 3)”even public schools.”
Wonder what the MEA thinks of that comment?
Frank, I’ve been around enough teens to understand that Dan’s use of “Shut up!” was probably the equivalent of “You’re kiddin’ me! Couldn’t be true! Astounding!” (Happy to translate for you.) 🙂
Unbelievable that all of you take yourselves so seriously!! Dan passes good (and often great!) thoughts for all of us to ponder. Get off your high horses and listen to the message and quit nitpicking!
Good article. It’s interesting that you mention libraries as an “extraordinary resource” when so many are struggling in Michigan and with the State Library is being hit with an executive order and budget reductions that will severely reduce services, collections and staffing that serve the public. The State Library was established before Michigan became a state and has served state government and all Michigan citizens since. Libraries are a necessary partner in all learning environments. Thanks for the added emphasis on libraries!
I say “lighten up!
I was not the least bit offended and thought it was well written.
Geeze, people need to relax and get a life!
The initial piece was supposed to be an inspiring historical look at two of our brilliant leaders and parallel the times as being tough! “When the times get tough the tough get going!” Adapt and overcome! Lead with your best self Dan!
“Shut up!” is a great use in either meaning, Dan. “No Way” – leads us to the astonishing ambition of those who came before us to make this country great. Hard work and determination brought forth personal success as well as achievements for all to enjoy: the pen, car, computer….. “Shut up” in the literal sense has the great meaning of grabbing your own boot straps and giving a healthy heave. Now, if you combine helping hands with working hands, there is no dead weight and the systems moves forward much more rapidly. No one said hard work pays off right now. It might take some time, but the end result is usually the same.
TJA is right on and so are you, Dan. Unfortunately, when individuals take the words the wrong way, it side-tracks the conversation. That’s why my old communication prof taught that the speaker and the listener were both 100% responsible for clear communication. That’s a communicative truth, not a mathematic one!
Thus, there has been a lot of conversation, but not so much about the topic of your RFL. So I’ll make this comment: your “improve yourself to become better-for others” is a topic all to itself in our self focused, self indulgent world. Instead of worrying about doing it for me, we should become better leaders because of what we can do for others. Continue to push this theme and set this example.
I like what you picked up on, Dave. When I look at Lincoln, Washington, or much less dramatic leaders – like my wife and many people who are leading through shrinkage and through uncertainty – it’s clear that leadership is for others. These are suffering servants.
If everyone followed the current cultural truism that says, with great self assurance, “you should do what makes you happy,” an awful lot of leaders would quit. Quit being principals, mayors, managers, or even moms and dads. But leadership is about improving to be your-best-self-for-others, and I appreciate you bring ME back to the whole point of it all!
I always find it interesting how some folks will pick out one strand of a written (or spoken) piece and go after it, as if it were the whole message. Dan, you were talking about the innate ability we each possess to do anything. The world is filled with examples of people who have accepted and worked with their challenges to create the dreams that lie in their hearts. This short video taught me to quit whining and start moving:
What came to my mind is what are we doing in our school systems (formal education) that is crushing our desire to learn? I love to learn. I love to read. I have stacks of books and notes about websites that contain information I grave. My desire to learn, was put on hold, though, for many years during my formal education. I disliked school and feared failure there. I jumped through the hoops and pleased my teachers. I was my high school’s valedictorian, and I continued receiving accolades and honors in college. I don’t think I began being educated, though, until I left the formal system. I know I didn’t enjoy learning until then. I think our Presidents may have been blessed by escaping the rigidity our education systems now impose. I fear that this rigidity that thwarts learning is increasing with the increasing of standardization and mandates from NCLB. I hope we can work toward individualization for our students (and teachers) someday, so that they can more easily find the joy of learning forever.
I appreciate your message and find it inspiring. I don’t think you fully reflect a critial level of understanding of privilege. Those two were Caucasian men. There is an inherent privilege in being male and White no matter what your socio-economic status or other challenges. They had opportunities that others did not have had because of their gender and race. I think it is important to put self-determination and individuality in context.
I commented above about privilege and won’t copy it here. Frankly, I think many people don’t yet understand how privilege works, my mis-labeling of George Washington contributed to that, and I will write more about that concept. Many others, I believe, have “pc” views of privilege that shadow some things as well as they illuminate others. It’s hard to apply our 2000-era cultural critique to Lincoln’s or Washington’s time, as though they are identical, or to their particular experiences which do justice to them.
When people are feeling “stuck” (powerless), the very successful 12-step programs tell us that the first step to healing is to admit that we are powerless. Can’t control the governor, the economy, the political parties, the banks, the legislature, the courts, etc. So what can we control? We can control whether we empower ourselves with new learning and new skills (like learning to be a touch typist and upgrading our data entry speed and accuracy or learning a new application, like spreadsheets, etc.) instead of sitting on the pity pot, getting a ring around our backsides and nothing else.
Oh? Did I say this would be easy? No. It’s always scary to try to become more than we were. It’s scary to admit that maybe we’re not yet all we can be… And yet, in this economy, if we’re not green (tender) and growing then we are surely shrinking into complete irrelevance. There isn’t much need any more for people to clip wicks on oil lamps. People had to learn to flip the light switch. The world is moving forward. We can move forward with it (or maybe even ahead of it). Or we can get left behind, figuratively trimming wicks in a world with LED displays.
Is that the point you were making, Dan?
As so often happens here, put better than I could put it.
It does make me pine a little for the time of wicks and lamps, though. Here I am in a DC hotel, listening to Tom Brokaw, the air condition, the sirens. And often I have more noise than that.
I think one of our challenges is to create the kind of peace for deep thought to which Lincoln and Washington were both drawn.
It’s easier to think deeply when the TV set and radios are off. Media shout at us. Nature whispers wisdom, but can’t be heard among the cacophony of media.
I like how you’d like all of us to try and be as good of a leader as our founding fathers. But the truth is that times have changed and there is no possible way that children and young adults can get the education they need without formal schooling. In order for someone to be able to pursue their dreams and acquire their dream job, they most likely need schooling and sometimes a post high school degree.
I am a sophomore in a good Maine high school. I can’t imagine what I would be like without the education I have now. Formal education leads you towards careers that can support you for the rest of your life. That education is desperately needed. If one was home schooled or didn’t have any kind of education, imagine working with that person. He would have little to no cooperation traits, and just wouldn’t know how to work with others.
Tell me what you think of my view.
In my opinion, we need both learning and credentials. The school-guided way is tried and true; that’s why employers value GED’s, diplomas, certificates, degrees and increasingly, the National Career Readiness Certificate. For better or worse, however, not all formal education is created equal. A degree from a world-class university is worth more in the job markeplace than one from a small, relatively unknown private college.
Credentials should not be confused with learning and learning should not be limited to formal venues. I hope you love to read and discover all kinds of nonfiction, whether you get a credential out of it or not. No one can take the learning from you and some employers will value what you know, not merely what you’ve been tested on.
Hope that makes sense.
Dan, I started to write this long responce and then stopped. Just keep doing with what you are. You are doing great and makeing a difference. Keep it up. Many ears are listening.
Libraries are an excellent componant, and metophor for the information age. The big challenge is deciding which book, or other sources of information are worthy of our time reading.
Today, so much masquarades as journalism or scholarship, that many persons are taken into the fold of odd ways of thinking. People need to become better at choosing sources of information.
As the the “shut up,” I have noticed a considerable increase in brusing speech and writing. This has caused me troubles, but it looks to be the fad, or direction of younger persons. Where someone not all that old, would find offense, or intimidation, a teenager, or 20 something will bandy words about as if they have no more meaning than any other words.
Insults and abusive language seems to have become cool, or the way of being assertive, and proving your strength, but it hurts us. Rational therapy shows how these words are taken literally by one part of the mind, and causes mental disturbances, which are unnecessary for good communication, or even emotional communication.
Even the word “whine,” or “whining,” is used to poor effect. One person’s well reasoned criticism, then becomes what another person calls whining, or a rant.
The value of language and its best use needs to be advocated. When we write, we need to be conscience of the lack of a voice with emotion to add meaning.
I think this is a lovely contribution. It’s so easy for me to rant, rail, fling stuff around. Your calm voice is a reminder to stick to the issues, and try to speak with deference and respect. That’s a kind of everyday leadership we could all benefit from, as our kids, media, and blogosphere tend to get hotter but no lighter.
The late great Johnny Carson, famed host of NBC’s The Tonight Show often said that in his entire career as a comedian there were only two people that Americans didn’t like jokes made of and they were Geo Washington and Abe Lincoln. Carson also said he always shied away from bringing up their names because people liked to think of them just as they had been taught back in school and nothing else was needed. I thought your “Shut up,” was no big deal but mentioned in the same breath as Washington and Linclon, I knew Johnny Caron was right again and would have advised against it.
A modern statistician after looking closely at each of their lives and formal educations might call Washington and Lincoln both outliers. In statistics, an outlier is of course an observation that is numerically distant from the rest of the data, in both cases meaning contemporary fellow citizens. Yet an argument can be made that both men climbed to the highest appreciation of both peers and detractors in spite of lacking formal educational circumstances. Both men might tell you if they could that the mass of Americans coming in their future would in fact need formal education, formal community housing, and formal preventative health care. They both understood all would be necessary to promote the nation’s general welfare. Both had concerns for the nation’s slave population and how to bring about their formal civil rights especially to a nation that loved cheap labor. Both men were blocked by their own party’s elite from making seamless progressive change.
Washington left after two terms and set the precedent for executive tenure, and unfortunately Lincoln did not live long enough to undue the heavy burden of slavery and give this nation its new birth of freedom we still seek today. Both knew it takes a formal community to grow a democratic nation of many into one, and formal federal government is the only solution then and now.
Perhaps the take away from your article may be for us all to respect the history Washington and Lincoln they gave us. We may need to realize our shear foolishness of the recent government upstruction by the minority party and their nonsense of no tax increases to curb the deficit and still maintain the nation’s formal institutions as status quo. Washington and Lincoln both were educated enough to know that the majority party has the moral obligation to forge the course and demand concession from the minority party in the process. If our current leadership does not learn this lesson we may find our nation that started out fighting against being taxed will end fighting against being taxed.
Thank you Dan for making people think about how Washington and Lincoln still impact us today.
Perhaps the take-away from your article, Dan, is that there are unlimited opportunities and possibilities for EACH OF US on the planet. It is our obligation as human beings to discover which is the “right thing” for us. Is it possible for a non-privileged black man born into poverty and a violent neighborhood to succeed in today’s world? One only need look at the history of Geoffrey Canada to know the answer is YES. Is it possible for a child born without eyesight and use of his limbs to become a happy, contributing member of our society? Take a look at the video clip posted earlier to discover the answer, once again, is YES. We can utilize the incredible resources that lie within us and around us, or do nothing. The choice is all ours. Success is measured by the steps we take in the direction of the dreams we hold dear.
Great information, Dan. I am all for trying to remove barriers to success, especially when those barriers affect certain populations unfairly. But I fear it’s too easy for us all to think that if someone doesn’t pave the way for us, we are limited in what we can accomplish. The limits we put on ourselves are often the most severe.
Isn’t it amazing how an audience who you think you know will hear so many intepretations of the same message? Being a teacher, I continually remind myself of who my audience is and how I am being understood. I value feedback and fine tune my presentations constantly so that my words are not misunderstood. I thought you meant to “read more and talk less’ when you said “Shut Up! based on the self educated examples…and I use the term, “Shut Up!!, all the time to symbolize surprise. While your use of the term may have been confusing or awkward to some, I still don’t understand how some would consider it insulting. Taken at face value, it was an interesting and short(meaning easy to read)article that some may have overanalized! Don’t you love public scrutiny? Keep on stirrin’ the pot! Scott
The term SHUT UP has a current definition as well as the old, derogatory, slam-bammer one. The context in which you used it was correct…and appealing. Just because the first replier criticized your semantics, don’t retreat into safety. I thoroughly enjoy your ability to always sound fresh and new and REAL!!!!!!
Thanks, Jay. Check out what I’ve said to
Bill Anderson, immediately below, though. Curious to ehar your further thoughts.
I think it is difficult for many leaders to admit they have made a mistake. But when they do a leader’s credibility is greatly enhanced and it imparts a wonderful example to emulate. I have placed a copy in a file that will remind me of how important accepting responsibility is and how forthright you were.
I wrote the first RFL at 11, after a long day of work in DC and a lovely dinner at the white house. I was tired and didn’t read my piece like I was the editor and not just the writer. So, it was right for me to own up to my sloppiness. But…
Before you give me too much credit (or others wonder why I backpedaled) let me be more candid: I wasn’t worried about this blog. I LOVE the dialogue, stimulating different thoughts, challenging assumptions, love being corrected, am happy to yield, apologize or push back. I wasn’t worried about the Reading for Leading blog. I was worried about our modern media. I didn’t want someone taking me totally out of context and saying “Granholm’s wife says unemployed people are whiners and should shut up.” I don’t want to get in her way and hurt her important work.
So, I was wimping out – pragmatically 🙂 If that makes any sense. As others have commented, like Scott Kurtz above, it’s amazing how much people can “infer” and as another commentator said, communication is the responsibility of speaker and listener. It’s amazing we can get any messages through.
But it’s incredibly encouraging to me to read people willing to think this through so well and from so many enriching angles!
Good to hear from you.
Thanks for the clarification on what you meant. The written word is both powerful and weak – it is often difficult to convey the nuiscances meant when using the written word.
FYI: This is a demonstration of the Lincoln and Washington story of determination which should be lifted up in the urban communities and replicated in other State’s urban communities. Thank you for your email with the outstanding and unique backgrounds of our late presidents; especially George Washington. I have been doing an esoteric study of his life and his influence on Washington, DC.
Civil Rights Investigator
I didn’t have a problem with “shut up”. I have the problem with “even public school”. How demeaning to those that attend public school, and those of us that give our hearts to teach there. Feels like a slap in the face.
Sorry about that, Carol. I’ve worked in public schools, too; as does one of my daughters. Just a quick slip.
I am not distracted by shut up. I grew up loving books and the notion of self-education. Lincoln was one of my heroes, due to his love of books.
I grew up at 307 S. 16th in Humboldt, TN. I was not able to be served as a child at the Public Library up the street at 115 S. 16th Street. Now, I am dumbfounded by the state of our education, when it appears that everyone has access to all knowledge.
I am greatful for leaders like you who are saying wake up. I am greatful to people who show me that education frees me from my circumstances and historical limitations. I am greatful to those who showed me that my education is in my hands.
I teach Japanese at a public elementary school in Detroit. The gist of my philosophy is that if you wait for Harvard to educate you, you will never get into Harvard.
What an amazing comment – to have gone from your boyhood in the segregated south to teaching Japanese to young people in Detroit. Keep leading with your best self!
Anyone who was offended by your use of the term “shut-up” probably are just unaware of it’s contextual meaning in pop culture. “Shut-up” as you probably intended it here means “no-way”, or “I’m shocked”. Unfortunately, they may have missed the important point you were trying to make which is a shame. The ability for people to make a difference in the lives of others does not need to be altered by bad breaks in life (as Lincoln and Washington demonstrated).
I enjoy your messages Dan! Don’t let the sticklers edit your voice or your word choice!
Now you’re offending people by quoting what you say to yourself? To paraphrase Jane Wagner, no matter how thin-skinned you get, it’s impossible to keep up.
I am amazed at the timing of this and your subsequent post. I am currently an online instructor for Michigan Virtual School and have been recently enrolled in an online class at UW-Stout, myself, as part of an online certification program.
This weeks readings deals with voice and tone in online communication….and I have used your readings as a example of how we all can be vulnerable to the assumption that everyone will get exactly what we mean…recognizing the tone and voice in which we write. Your clarification is a perfect example of what we need to be aware of and practice on such occasions.
Thank you so much.
Louise (Lee) DeTolve
Happy to be a guinea pig for you 🙂
Seriously, it was a good lesson for me in so many ways, and I’m glad you’re finding some grist for the intellectual mill!
Yes, Dan, “schooling” has changed from the Washington and Lincoln years to now.
Perhaps, practical schooling, quickly converted into doing, was practiced better then.
For examples of Lincoln’s wisdom on leadership, go to: