The phrase has been misinterpreted, and our society has embraced the wrong motives. It isn’t all about the big stick, but that is what people like to think. That is the message I got out of Ira Williams’s latest, Speak Softly. I thought it was going to be a “marketing manifesto” – it turned out to be much more.
Ira discusses the changes that have taken place in US society over its history. What was once a group led by great people, whose motivation was the enhancement of the lives around them, has now gravitated to “self-full” me-too thinking. I’d like to think that there are still some folks out there that embrace wisdom as a driving force to benefit the world. But in an age of instant-everything, we sometime miss the finer points of building lasting, mutually beneficial relationships.
Mr. Williams doesn’t suggest that our generous side has been forgotten. But the purpose has changed. What once was giving simply for the sake of giving (as in America’s assistance with the Post WWII reconstruction efforts in Europe), has become giving of another sort. We contribute expecting something in return, whether it be public recognition, a favor to be called some time in the future, or even political or economic power. But where we really falter is in our perceptions, as it creates a snowball effect.
We are guilty of viewing humility as a weakness. If we speak softly, there is no way we could be carrying a big stick. We assume the loud have the big stick, and we rally around them. Have you ever lent a helping hand, only to have it rebuffed? Or you do so, and the beneficiary goes out of their way to thank you, even if the effort was minimal to begin with? Nobody expects those “random acts of kindness” so they perceive alterior motives. And I can’t blame them. As Mr. Williams clearly points out, we have become a society of “self” – self-examination, self-criticism, self-help, self-improvement. The “self” is embraced, and the “selfless” is viewed as weak.
PS: The manifesto does contain some religious undertones, and while I am not a religious person, I have to say it was the first time I didn’t feel like I was getting “sold” those messages. Proves you don’t have to be pushed into a lifestyle of thinking one certain way to understand the lesson – something our world leaders (and agitators) should definitely take note of. Case in point here, and no big sticks were carried with.