Difficult times will show you what someone is made of. Difficult times will also show you whether or not someone has the ability to lead others. What will that person do when difficulties arise? If that person is a leader, or the head of a household, or the boss at the business, what will they say or do to show those whom they lead that there is a way forward and here’s how we get there together?
My Granny grew up in the country during the depression, but she and her six siblings had fond memories of hard work. She told me that, among other things, her father (we called him PawPaw) was known as the fastest roofer in the county. He would put a handful of roofing tacks in his mouth, and he would spit them into one hand and drive them in one blow with the other. Just spittin’ and nailin’ as fast as anyone could roll out the tar paper.
But times were hard, so the family raised chickens and hogs, churned butter, snapped peas from the garden, canned vegetables, and they made it work. Everyone had a part in the family overcoming adversity because that’s how you did things.
I once asked Granny about some old dishes on the upper shelf in her cabinet. They were simple and crackled with age. They were made of thick white porcelain with a red band. I believe she called them depression dishes. She said that PawPaw worked out a deal with the local hospital to get the hospital’s food scraps and trash to feed their hogs. But once in a while, a hospital dish was thrown out with the trash, and it wound up in the slop that was thrown to the hogs. So the family washed it and used it there at the house. Who does that? Real people, that’s who! Real people know that knuckling down and making a plan, and working hard together is how you do things.
My pastor brought up a quote just this weekend that I’ve used several times myself. It was attributed to the Sheik of Dubai, although it has been used by a number of others. In this version of the quote, the sheik said, “My grandfather rode a camel, my father rode a camel, I drive a Mercedes, my son drives a Land Rover, and my grandson is going to drive a Land Rover, but my great-grandson is going to ride a camel.” When asked why, he responded, “Hard times create strong men, strong men create good times. Good times create weak men, weak men create hard times. Many will not understand it, but you have to raise warriors, not parasites.”
A life of ease, without challenge, creates difficulty. But within difficulty, you find leaders. Leaders who are willing to be warriors, both figuratively and in reality. Leaders who are willing to make a plan. A plan to fight. And then to fight the plan.
The other morning I ran across something that personified such leadership and toughness. Someone I follow on social media found a copy of the letter that Coach Bear Bryant sent to his dad in 1982 as his dad was preparing to report for fall practice at the University of Alabama. What a great letter!
It reads in part: “Dear Mike, you will be expected to report for football practice August 17. ... I am expecting you to report in top physical condition, clean-cut, smiling, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and raring to go. Also, I am expecting you to be prepared to run, hit, pitch, kick, catch, sweat, smell, and enjoy it. There are no easy ways, but there are ways to enjoy the journey, and we must find them ... I am also expecting you to work hard, eat well, sleep well, play well, display a winning attitude at all times, be a leader, and help me to sell the squad on what it takes to win and enjoy the journey …. I hope you will share your problems with me whether it be at home, at the dorm, in your schoolwork, with teammates, with coaches, with training regulations, self-discipline or even flying a kite. If you do that, I will try to help you, and if I can’t, I’ll recommend you get a job, join the Army, or join the Foreign Legion, but in any event, to reside in another state. …. Nothing’s too good for the winners, I want to love you, pat you, ... brag on you and see you hoot, run and shout and laugh, pray, hug and win with humility. ... If we lose, I want all of us to be unhappy, no one to have any fun, and expect only what is reserved for losers but take it with dignity while planning to come back. ... Please remember us to your family and make your personal plans on how you are going to reach your goal – the NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP. .... Sincerely, Paul Bryant”
(Credit to Mitchell McQueen, who posted that on Twitter)
What an epic letter! What an attitude. There are 20 life lessons on that one page, and every member of our society should have someone willing to pour those lessons into them. But those are the same lessons that my PawPaw taught his seven kids during the depression. It is no different than what the Sheik of Dubai was conveying.
There are hard times - but here’s the goal; there are difficult choices - but I will be with you as we make them together; here’s what I expect; here’s the plan; here’s your part of the plan; here’s the goal. We’re going to plan the fight, and we’re going to fight the plan.
Too often, those same life lessons are lost in the world of politics. Being an elected official is hard work at times. It is often thankless and sometimes controversial. Unfortunately, it is also about the only place in the world where your job performance is undefined, and you don’t have to have a plan. Think about it. When is the last time you saw the leadership of the Republican Supermajority in Montgomery put forth a unified plan that says, “here is what the House and Senate have conferred and agreed upon to do, and the Governor is on board! Everyone know their role? Good, let’s get it done!” A plan, an actual plan with well-defined goals that responds to actual issues that the people of the state need to have worked on.
In 1993, Newt Gingrich rallied GOP members who all signed on to the “Contract with America.” Over 300 members and candidates for Congress stood on the Capitol steps together and signed their names to an aggressive populist agenda that they swore to push in their first 100 days if elected. It is still to this day heralded as one of the most significant Congressional sessions in US history. It came on the heels of Clinton-era liberal policies, and it was a plan that galvanized the spirit of the American public.
In 2010, I was proud to run with so many others in the Republican wave on the “Handshake with Alabama.” It was a plan inspired by state and national dysfunction in the Obama era that unified us and gave us focus. We all signed on, and we worked the plan. That first quadrennium after implementing the plan was a game changer for Alabama politics.
Governor Ron DeSantis just announced his “Freedom Agenda” for Florida and published what is known as the “DeSantis Playbook.” He regularly rallies members of the legislature to join him in it, and the effects have inspired people well outside of Florida because it is a plan, a real plan, that speaks to the hearts and minds of the people in the midst of the confusing Biden era.
My PawPaw focused his family on getting through the depression - even down to the depression dishes they salvaged from the pig slop. Coach Bryant made it clear to his players that there was a plan that involved winning, and losers could go live in another state.
In that same vein, we need our elected officials to actually form a plan, a cohesive plan, one that speaks to the people’s hearts and minds and tells them what to rally around. These are dark times, but conservatives will rally if there are leaders with a plan.
Plan the fight, and let’s fight the plan.
Phil Williams is a former State Senator, retired Army Colonel and combat veteran, and a practicing Attorney. He has served with the leadership of the Alabama Policy Institute and currently hosts the conservative news/talk show Rightside Radio M-F 2-5 pm on multiple channels throughout north Alabama. (WVNN 92.5FM/770AM-Huntsville/Athens; WXJC 101.FM and WYDE 850AM – Birmingham/Cullman) His column appears every Monday in 1819 News.
To contact Phil or request him for a speaking engagement, go to www.rightsideradio.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com.