Below is the flag at Mt Washington, New Hampshire
At least that is how it used to be when Matthew Arnold wrote those words more than a century ago. I am speaking only of my own observation but I have noticed a change in society. I can recall when people doing bad things pretended to be good because they were rightfully ashamed of their bad behavior. Today many celebrities and athletes revel in their horrible behavior with apparent impunity. Being bad is now cool. It is something akin to the radical chic. Good people feel a little shy of admitting that they are not bad and cool. It is strange. We have in many ways reversed the earlier formulation.
When I talk to my colleagues in Iraq, both civilians and military, it is clear to me that most people are here for good reasons. They came to do their duty, to serve their country and to try to make the world a better place. Of course there are also other reasons, but duty is the dominant, the predominant, motivation. It is the sine qua non of why we are here. My new team members feel a little reticent about admitting that. I did too. Why?
The Marines really believe all that stuff they say about patriotism, duty & commitment and being around them has been both refreshing and liberating. I think we underplay the call to duty in our lives. Most people are looking for meaning. True happiness comes from doing what you should do. It need not be heroic or dangerous and it will be different for every person, but doing what YOU think you should do is what makes you happy. That means happiness cannot be found, bought or given; it has to be earned – too bad for rich heiresses and morality-challenged sports & movie stars.
I am going to change my introductory talk to new team members to emphasize this a little more and give them more opportunity to feel good about what they are doing. Maybe I can use some variation of that speech John F. Kennedy gave re going to the moon, we do these things “not only because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win…”
Or is that just too un-cool for today’s ears?