Croskey’s Corner: Initiative
There is a real Yin and Yang aspect to the Qualities. With this month’s Character Quality of Initiative (recognizing and doing what needs to be done without being asked) we see a counterpoint to Patience (accepting difficulties without rushing toward deadlines to remove them).
Walking this Patience/Initiative tightrope in a balanced, Good Character manner can be tough. Should I respond to a problem with “Slow and steady wins the race?” Should I, instead, follow Nike’s advice and “Just do it?” Should I wait out a challenge by reminding myself, “This too will pass?” Or should I charge ahead knowing the “The early bird gets the worm?” Maybe I should live my life by some hybrids: “Good things come to him who CHARGES AHEAD!” “Strike while the iron is COLD!” I don’t know about you, but I could wear out my brakes or strip some gears following these conflicting adages.
We can look for deeper understanding in this dilemma from the great philosopher Rogers. No, not Carl Rogers, the great therapist and educator. Rather, Kenny Rogers, the memorable singer-story teller. Kenny’s classic (actually the words were written by Don Schlitz), “The Gambler,” reminds us, “You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.” Isn’t the wisdom to know when to act (Initiative) and when to wait (Patience) essential in life? Honestly, what we call luck is really more a matter of timing the Initiative-Patience cycle correctly. The “Gambler” lyrics add that “the secret to survivin’ is knowing what to throw away, knowing what to keep.” With cards, that may be another way of timing when to bet, when to fold, and when to check. But life may, in addition, actually require us to throw away that which serves us no good purpose and to keep that which preserves our integrity.
When we do decide it is the time to “do what needs to be done,” the hard part comes. My mentor, Warren, says that the hardest part of running is putting on your shoes. I tell that to students all the time. Starting homework is harder than doing it. Turning off the TV and the computer, choosing schoolwork over fun, these are difficult Initiatives to undertake. Undertake indeed! Many students FEEL like they are being buried under a pile of schoolwork. But once a young person actually begins the hated job, it’s not quite so hateful. If half the problem with distasteful jobs is in the starting, the other half may come from worrying about how we look after we DO take the Initiative. Remember Pete Rose, that star of the Great Eight, the Big Red Machine? He was hated around the National league long before he got caught betting on baseball. In part it was because he always RAN to first base when he drew a walk. He couldn’t walk there; he was so eager to be on base that he ran to First. This taking the Initiative to hustle got him the nickname Charlie Hustle, but it also earned him disdain: he was called Hot Dog; He was described as arrogant; he was called much worse. He only knew one way to play and that was HARD. But others took it as rubbing their faces in his success; he out-worked and out-hustled most of the other players. He gained honors and set records in the process. But, because of his Initiative – and because his hustle drew attention to others’ lack of hustle – he also alienated many others.
So what’s the moral here? Take the Initiative and be resented? Don’t take the Initiative, preserve many friendships, but miss opportunities to do what needs to be done? Probably neither. But do we sometimes take the Initiative in order to show others up? Or, on the other hand, do we sometimes not grab the Initiative because we are afraid of being called Hot Dogs? I don’t advocate either. Rather, could we quietly do what needs to be done, without fanfare and yet without hesitation? There is a Latin motto for that: Prodesse Quam Conspici. It means, “To make progress while remaining inconspicuous.” If we avoid taking the Initiative for the glory, we will be less likely to make enemies but more likely to help our friends. I know what motto to follow! Just do it…quietly.