Of a Hundred Takeaways From Gettysburg . . .



We went around the campfire, each sharing our views. It didn’t matter that some of the boys – or the lone girl, Paris – were 10 or 11 years old. We had all toured the battleground on Friday, most had read the book The Killer Angels, many had seen the movie ‘Gettysburg,’ and everyone had an opinion. People spoke about Stuart and Sickles and Lee whose errors were devastating. A couple of the boys expressed awe at Chamberlain’s heroism. Others talked about the amazing loyalty, the power of the Cause(s), or the suicidal nature of Pickett’s infamous charge.

Sheryl sat a third of the way around the circle of people offering their reflections. I don’t remember her exact words. But unlike my impressions of Gettysburg and the views I heard around that fire, it was her penetrating words that I can’t shake. She began by saying that she too admired the heroism and commitment, but what she could not get over was the war in the first place. How could they accept something that literally tore people and thus their families and their communities – and of course, their nation – apart? In the end, the reason we have united states is that there were more northerners, who had more money, more weapons and shoes and food. The intractable issues were not solved by grand reason or extraordinary feats of . . . negotiation. What a crazy way (six hundred thousand casualties) to resolve a dispute.

Sheryl’s point was barely touched upon as we proceeded around the circle to hear other impressions and views. Her question was perhaps too painful to ask, and too impossible to answer. Aren’t you grateful that you play on smaller fields than Lincoln and Davis, Grant and Lee played upon? But on our fields, how much ongoing pain exists, because we don’t ask the hardest question with our adversaries, or won’t wrestle with it long enough to yield some workable solutions? We instead choose our “wars” that bring many casualties. Companies dissolve as two partners both think they’re the principled one. Marriages collapse where each is absolutely convinced the other is wrong. Parties stalemate over budgets in business and government – where it’s too easy to be right and too hard to fully acknowledge the brutal realities and to engage in the intellectual war of negotiation to capture a shared win. Adolescents and their siblings (and their parents) suffer as they can find no way to bridge the differing world views that give rise to their Mason-Dixon line.

Like all the other guys I was with at Gettysburg, I was taken by the physical heroism, the strategies, the gambles and the gore. But the big takeaway was this: Do everything possible to avoid war – in my everyday leadership world. Perfect (lucky) timing: On this week’s Everyday Leadership radio show, we take up the topic of negotiation, building essential skills and knowledge to

Lead with your best self,


Audio: Of a Hundred Takeaways From Gettysburg