Category Archives: Responsibility

Remember the Alamo!

Texas is the finest portion of the globe that has blessed my vision. – Sam Houston

Beginning at the Battle of Gonzales in October 1835 and ending swiftly in the 18 minute Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836, the Texas Revolution birthed a new nation and saw one-third of the land mass of America change ownership. In between these two engagements we learn from history about the Battle of Coleto Creek, the massacre at Goliad, and the thirteen days of glory (Feb 23-Mar 6, 1836) wherein the defenders of the Alamo in San Antonio de Bexar bought time for General Sam Houston and his army to escape to the east during the Runaway Scrape.

All in all, Texian and Tejano forces were defeated, massacred, and chased from one end of the state to the other. But in the end, one of the swiftest and most decisive battles in history proved the resolve of the men who proclaimed as they charged the field, “Remember Goliad! Remember the Alamo!”

What drove these men in the fight? What motivated those who knew that in battle they would most surely die? When the odds were so stacked against them, what kept them going?

The political climate in Mexico was one of upheaval. General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna had helped overthrow the sitting government and had in time been declared the sole ruler, a military dictator. The 1824 Constitution of Mexico which had guaranteed freedoms and rights to the citizens of Mexico and the settlers in Texas was rescinded and the army was used to force subjects into submission to the new government.

With their loss of rights, land, and privileges, the settlers appealed for a return to freedom and lost. They took up arms to defend themselves and win their freedom. The flag that flew over the Alamo was a Mexican flag with the year 1824 written in the middle, signifying defiance for the current regime and a desire to return to the rule of law under the previous Constitution.

As Col. Travis and Col. Bowie led the forces at the Alamo, joined by volunteers from Tennessee commanded by former Congressman David Crockett, this band of 180 or so men were determined to hold the fort and delay the advancing Mexican army. Travis appealed to the newly formed government of Texas asking for reinforcements but none ever came.

As Travis fought off a much larger force for 13 days the Constitutional Congress of the Republic of Texas met at Washington-on-the-Brazos and drafted the Texas Declaration of Independence. Signed on March 2, 1836 (Texas Independence Day), this document saw the birth of a new nation.

The battle at San Antonio ended on the morning of March 6 when Santa Anna’s troops finally breached the walls and put every remaining Alamo defender to the sword. No prisoners were taken. Women, children, and a few slaves were allowed to leave. Otherwise there were no survivors.

Later that month, Col. Fannin’s troops were overwhelmed and surrendered. On Palm Sunday, March 27, 1836, some 350 Texian prisoners were ordered to march to a new location. While on the road, marching single file, they were executed in Goliad.

The remaining Texian and Tejano forces were not demoralized, but instead were motivated by these atrocities. It steeled their courage and drove them to success at the final battle of the revolution. There was not only a desire for liberty and freedom – there was also a desire to ensure that these men at the Alamo and Goliad had not died in vain.

The Texians lost right up until the end. Houston’s strategy to hold out, to deliberately pick the field of battle for the final engagement, and to lead the Mexican army further and further away from its supply lines meant that in that final battle only 9 out of 900 Texian soldiers were killed while over 600 Mexican troops were killed and another 700, including Gen. Santa Anna, were captured.

The Republic of Texas existed as a sovereign nation from March 2, 1836 until its annexation as the 28th state by the United States on December 29, 1845. In order to pay off debt from the war Texas ceded to the United States land that stretches from Oklahoma and New Mexico, up through Kansas and Colorado into Wyoming.

From this brief history review we can learn valuable lessons for today. A small group of people committed to a task can overcome overwhelming odds and succeed in meeting their goals. This determination must be joined with endurance. To achieve our goals at work or at home we must be willing to work through the hardships that will arise, keeping in mind where we want to be, not where we are at the moment. We must learn to be diligent and deliberate in our actions, planning for success, and working with ambition and adaptability to stay the course.

The lessons of war teach us that in life we need to know the difference between strategy and tactics. Strategy refers to the overall goal, the big picture, the end game. Tactics are the means to implement the strategy, to make it happen one step at a time. That is why losing one or two battles does not settle the outcome of a war. Likewise, failure should only drive us to try again, to never give up, to press on, and to keep in mind the overall goals we have set. As we remember the Alamo this month, remember that out of defeat can come the motivation for history making victory.

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Filed under Perspective, Reality Bites, Responsibility

Are We There Yet?

Successfully Navigating around Sources of Conflict

Everyday we face the possibility of conflict (even if we don’t get out of bed). Some people just wake up on the wrong side of the bed and are in a bad mood. Others search for conflict and do all that they can to keep the people around them stirred up. Sometimes the cause is impatience, a misunderstanding, a mistake, or perhaps a genuine disagreement that gets handled poorly. Whatever the cause, whenever we interact with other people there is always the potential for conflict.

Many of us dread conflict and seek to avoid it at all costs. Some go so far as being willing to take the blame for something they did not do if they think it means that there will be an end to the confrontation. There are also those around us in the work place that fight dirty. When it comes to conflict, even about business matters, they make it personal and they attack with their words and actions. Some conflict is resolved, some averted, and some just seems to never end.

Conflict and confrontations are part of life because none of us is perfect. None of us, contrary to what some may believe, have all the answers and no one is really always right. When we disagree, when there are differences, or when there are problems it is part of our nature to react defensively. That means that our first initial “gut reaction” is fight or flight. We either prepare mentally and emotionally to fight, or we look for an escape route, some way to get out of the confrontation as quickly as possible.

There have been volumes of books written about conflict resolution. In fact, we can even go to school and get a degree in the subject. But with all that the experts have to say about it, why do we still face the potential for conflict on a daily basis? Because while it is easy to write about dealing with conflict, it is an entirely different matter once the conflict has begun and we are knee deep into it. We can think about conflict logically, but most conflict finds us entangled in emotions. It is how we feel that usually determines how we react.

Beside that, in the midst of conflict no one takes the time to read the books on conflict resolution. If we are not prepared beforehand then we will not be able to think rationally once the battle begins. So what can we do beforehand to help prepare ourselves mentally and emotionally to deal with conflicts that may arise. I understand that the very thought of dealing with conflict may make us want to run and hide, or call in sick, but if we are not thinking about it before things get rolling, then it will certainly just roll over us.

When conflicts arise we do not need a Tom-Tom or Garmin to tell us where we took a wrong turn. Every conflict, no matter how small or how large, can be traced back to one of three root problems: Greed, Pride, or Selfishness. That is the GPS we need to check to get things back on track or to prevent getting “lost” in the first place.

Think about it. Every conflict can be boiled down to these lowest common denominators. It is either greed – wanting something that is not ours or wanting more than what we have; pride – thinking we are right, we are better than we are, better than others, or that we deserve something that we did not get; or selfishness – putting our wants and needs above those of others. If we think about things that have caused recent conflicts in our lives we can follow it back and arrive at one of these three root problems every time.

In order to deal with conflict, or better yet, in order to be prepared to handle conflict and resolve problems with others, we need to take our eyes off of ourselves. It is a usually a self centered emotionally irrational reaction that escalates conflict. To help us figure this out, we need to think in terms of the lessons we can learn from the martial art of judo. Not that we give someone a judo chop when they start to pick a fight. NO! Seriously, judo is the art of using an opponent’s weight and momentum against them, it is using redirection and superior leverage to allow others to defeat themselves.

Think about it this way. When someone is determined to start a conflict or have a confrontation we will probably not be able to stop them. But we can be in complete control of how we respond. We can deflect their attack, diffuse their emotions, and even distract them from their objective, if we are ready before the battle begins. It is not about out-fighting them, it is about out-thinking them.

The single most freeing fact when it comes to dealing with conflict is the realization that we are not responsible for how others act. We are responsible for ourselves and how we act. When we take on responsibility that is not ours we will end up in a fight before it is all over. But when we take the responsibility for our own actions (and even thoughts), then we can think rationally about how to respond to conflict before it ever begins.

We may still be involved in conflicts, but if we focus on ourselves and our responsibility instead of on others, we have already won. A mature and thoughtful person who is committed to doing what they know is right no matter what anyone else around them does will not need to decide whether to resort to fight or flight. They will be prepared to stand their ground, to stand alone if necessary, and to stand above the fray. A wise man once wrote, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” It may not always be possible, but if we are prepared, we will overcome, no matter what conflict comes our way.

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Filed under Responsibility

It’s Not My Fault

“We believe that to err is human. To blame it on someone else is politics.” – Vice President Hubert Humphrey

We have looked at how we have opportunities to LEARN from our mistakes and we pondered about how we react when others make mistakes that affect us. Now let’s look for a moment at what happens when we are to blame. Honestly, when the mistake is our fault we want those affected or offended to be patient, understanding, and forgiving. So why is it that we think when it is not our fault that we have a right to be abrasive, harsh, and critical? Remember, it could have been us. How would we want people to respond to us if we had made the mistake? Would we want to be blamed, yelled at, demeaned, punished, or embarrassed? Yet so often when the fault lies with someone else this is exactly how we react.

Not to be negative, but what should we not do when others make mistakes? If we want to help others learn from their mistakes, just as we hope to learn from our own, we start by refusing to play the blame game. When a mistake is made we must resist the impulse we have to find out who is to blame. This does not mean that we do not hold people responsible for their mistakes, but responsibility and blame are not the same thing. When we are responsible we own up to what we have done and we work to make it right. When we blame we are really just looking for someone to bear the brunt of our reaction to what has happened. We want someone to take it out on; we want a scapegoat.

We need to do all we are able to avoid embarrassing the mistake maker. Whether we realize it or not those who have made a mistake usually do feel badly about it, to the point that they dread our reactions and are quick to hide or deny what they have done. Too often our previous reactions have taught others that we are not to be trusted to deal with mistakes fairly.

Often after someone makes a mistake we do and say things that embarrass them, and unfortunately this is usually done in front of others. When someone makes a mistake, if we are the person responsible for correcting it, then we should do so in private. Of course the part of this that is the most critical is deciding if we are the person responsible to correct the mistake in the first place.

Most people who are affected by a mistake are not the same people who are responsible for correcting the mistake. If we take on that responsibility when it is not ours, we are setting ourselves up over others when frankly we have no right to do so. If the mistake affects us and the offender apologizes and tries to make things right, then we are responsible to forgive them and work with them to deal with the consequences. When we are not in a position of authority we should not act as if we are. It demeans a person and disheartens them. Discouragement is the enemy of education. A discouraged person is not learning from the experience, he is just trying to survive it and get on with things so he can forget the mess he caused.

While we may not be responsible for correcting a mistake we may still be able to offer some advice that will help everyone involved learn from what has happened. We need to refrain from offering free advice though. Free advice is advice we offer when our input is not requested. If someone wants to hear our opinion they will ask for it. If they don’t then we should keep quiet. Keeping quiet is a lost art these days it seems as too many people have too much to say about everything. We need to be quiet, and we need to be willing to listen and learn. If mistake makers are unwilling to take responsibility and if they are defensive about it then they won’t listen to us. Beside that, unsolicited free advice is usually worth exactly what we pay for it.

Now then, what if we are in a position to correct the mistake? We need to do so with an attitude of helping the mistake maker learn from the mistake. Our first thought is usually to find a way to punish the offender instead of disciplining them. What is the difference? Punishment is making someone pay for what they have done. Discipline comes from the root word “disciple” which means “to teach.” Discipline is not making someone pay for their mistake. Discipline is taking the opportunity to teach a lesson as a result of the mistake. To discipline is to educate. Our goal should not be to make them feel bad about what they have done, but to help them learn from their mistake so as not to repeat it.

The best way to remember how to respond to a mistake is to recall that old railroad safety campaign – “Stop, Look and Listen.” Remember the commercials? We stop at the crossing if the lights are flashing or the arms are down. If there are no lights or arms, before we cross the tracks we at least look to see if a train is coming. And even if we do not see a train, we listen. We may not see it, but we can hear it if it is coming down the tracks. When a mistake is made, even when it is not our fault, we need to “Stop, Look and Listen.” If we don’t we are sure to get run over.

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Filed under Communication, Responsibility