Culture, History, Military, Philosophy

On Giving and Receiving Credit–For Those Brave Enough To Try

The wise person acts but does not take credit. Leads, but does not rule–Lao Tze, Tao Te Ching


The Master, by residing in the Tao,
sets an example for all beings.
Because he doesn’t display himself,
people can see his light.
Because he has nothing to prove,
people can trust his words.
Because he doesn’t know who he is,
people recognize themselves in him.
Because he has no goal in mind,
everything he does succeeds–Lao Tse, Tao Te Ching

Wise words, those.  Indicative of a good friend, a good mentor, a good boss, and a good man.  May we all find one or more of such in our lives as we stagger onwards.  And when we do, may we remember him always.  I do, and I have.

Those words are also a reminder (and perhaps a warning) to me as I descend into decrepitude, that a too-determined pursuit of fame and fortune as evinced by the material world, and an insistence on inflating one’s own ego and sense of self-worth at the expense of others, really isn’t a particularly healthy thing.  And, Lord knows, it’s really unattractive, in every sense of the word: moral, ethical, physical, spiritual and all the other six ways from Sunday I can think of.  Ugh.

No.  Better to dance with the ones that brung me: family, decades-old friends, neighbors of long-standing–those who’ve shown themselves kind, loyal, and always faithful.  Those who’ve come through when I’ve depended on them, and who’d say the same about me, if you asked them–or perhaps even if you didn’t.  Those humble and straightforward enough that their egos don’t feed on the destruction of others, and who don’t feel it necessary to two-time or betray.  And those who aren’t out for themselves but who really do believe that–in a totally non-woke, non-political way–we actually are stronger, and better, together.

Oh, sure, I make new friends all the time.  And I’m glad to.  But Lord, I’m more cautious about it that I was even just a few years ago.  The Internet has, sadly and irrevocably (I think) altered a dynamic there.  Wolves in sheep’s clothing find it easy to prey and manipulate, and I worry about youngsters like my beloved granddaughter, as she tries to navigate her way through while keeping both her dignity and her innocence intact.  And I mourn a simpler time when it was, as Matthew might say, easier to separate the sheep from the goats. (Something I’m pretty good at, after almost 40 years of practice, even if I say so myself.  Gracious, what a lot of agricultural metaphors here.  Funny, that.)

There’s a saying beloved in Conservative circles along the lines of “you can get a lot done if you don’t care who gets the credit.” One or another form of it has been attributed to many politicians and historical figures over the past couple of centuries.

The invaluable” identifies–at a minimum (there are plenty of other iterations elsewhere by everyone from Harry Truman to Mick Jagger)–the following:

  1. A man may do an immense deal of good, if he does not care who gets the credit for it–Father Strickland, 1863
  2. This was the opportunity for a man who likes to do a good thing in accordance with the noble maxim …Never mind who gets the credit–Edward Everett Hale
  3. The way to get things done is not to mind who gets the credit of doing them–Benjamin Jowett/Father Strickland
  4. There is no limit to what a man can do who does not care who gains the credit for it–Charles Edward Montague

and finally, that with which many of us are familiar in our own lifetimes:

There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit–Ronald Reagan 1980

The most recent admission by the Pentagon that its Afghanistan drone strike on August 29 2021, for which it was first delighted to take credit as a “righteous” strike (h/t Thoroughly Modern Milley) because it disposed of an “imminent threat to our forces and evacuees at the airport” killed only innocent civilians (including seven children) and friends of the United States, and mistakenly targeted the wrong vehicle demonstrates once again the appalling state of boots-on-the-ground Western HUMINT in this day and age.  Or if not a failure of boots-on-the-ground HUMINT, certainly of the way it’s parsed and interpreted as it makes its way up the food chain.  One way or another, it’s a fucking disgrace.

And so now here we are, at the stage where (as best I can see) this thoroughly un-righteous strike was undertaken at the behest of no-one, and with only the reluctant acknowledgement that “mistakes were made.” (General McKenzie).

“Success,” as they say, “has a million fathers; failure is an orphan.”

And as is usually the case, I expect the truth lies somewhere in between.  In between crowing certainty and passivist, cringing excuse.  In between  narcissistic ego-stroking and destructive abuse.  Somewhere in there, in-between, is probably the truth.

Yes.  There must be a better way.  I’m pretty sure my father who–from the 1960s forward was banging this drum–had some pretty good ideas.  He didn’t care if he got credit; he just wanted to get the job done. And, along the way, there have been others whose ideas have been worth considering.  The best of them have–like my Dad–maintained a sense of perspective, and stayed in the fight.  Others have lost their way, have become consumed with a sense of irrational grievance and have–because they feel underappreciated and because their egos have suffered–made themselves irrelevant and put themselves on the sidelines.

I don’t know how you win this fight from the sidelines.  If that’s where you find yourself, gazing at the movers and shakers who are actually having a conversation about it; if you’re on the outside looking in; if you have some good ideas, (and perhaps you do), then get back on your horse and get back in the game; stop feeling sorry for yourself; stop begging for affirmation from the clueless and stupid; stop offering one excuse after another about why you’ve abandoned the good fight and turned your back on those who love you or are your natural allies; stop droning on about how you think you didn’t get enough “credit” for your ideas; start to re-engage with the smart and committed, and bloody well get back in the fight.

There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit–Ronald Reagan 1980

Stop looking for credit, and start acting creditably.  Magic may follow.

Just saying.

Also saying a prayer tonight for all those in the military who are at the mercy of the fools at the upper echelons and all those who are not helped by the preening of those who insist on “credit” for recognizing a problem that’s been self-evident for decades.  God help them all.  They deserve better than this.

Long live the Tao.

Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step–Lao Tze, Tao Te Ching

I remember.

Leave a Reply