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The Citizen-Warrior Inside Each of Us

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The recently published HR Doctor column recounted family adventures during one of our four South African safaris. It focused on our interaction and study of Zulu culture and history. It was titled “The Warrior Inside Each of Us.” The theme was the value of reflecting on the fact that no matter how much pressure we may feel, how sad we may feel or how difficult our lives may be, inside each of us is the spirit of the Zulu warrior. That warrior ethos creates strategies to overcome even the most horrific and difficult circumstances. The warrior will act to implement that strategy boldly and with compelling urgency. Being part of the Zulu warrior tradition also means celebrating victories and caring for your colleagues.

There is, however, another kind of “warrior” who affects all of us. This American version of the Zulu warrior can also change an individual’s life while helping overcome serious difficulties. This kind of warrior can also convey lessons to our children and grandchildren. This kind of warrior also cares about neighbors, colleagues at work and people in other parts of the world.

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The Warrior Inside Each of Us

This is the spirit of “citizen-warrior.”  When civic engagement and virtue declines, when civil discourse gives way to shouting and vitriol and gossip, one of the first and perhaps the most serious casualties is our sense of community and security. It is easy to look back to the great ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome to see a common lesson. This is a lesson we are failing to hear and to support apparently. It is also a lesson we must do better at honoring and acting on.

If we choose not to care and respond to the problem of declining civic education and engagement, we will witness in the United States the same kind of decline as a nation and as individuals that the two forbearer societies mentioned also witnessed.

America will not be the same place that we love and respect as it might have been when we were younger and more idealistic. It will not have the same place of honor and success in the world that it once had. It will no longer be supremely powerful and influential in a positive sense the way it has traditionally been.

Does anyone reading this want that to happen? Does a government leader want to see the trends of decay go unchallenged?  Does anyone involved in public service want to see a nation whose people don’t seem able to hear and respect one another’s views or find compromise for the greater good? Finally, does anyone reading this want to see a political entity caring or seeming to care more about automatic loyalty to an individual over loyalty to the nation?

Being a citizen-warrior and understanding what that means can make a huge difference not only for us individually but for our community and our country. A citizen-warrior, in my conception at least, has nothing to do with owning multiple weapons or stockpiling survival gear. It means very simply that we ensure that our schools share wisdom with young people about the history and philosophies that made America great. It means what we remembered and think long, and hard, and often about the way we govern our communities and live our lives. It means not walking by things that are wrong at work like sexual harassment, racism and bullying, or other forms of improper, if not also, illegal conduct. Instead, it means taking steps to deal with those civil “evils” in constructive but powerful ways.

Being a citizen-warrior means letting our sense of charity — the better angels of our being — overcome our sense of selfishness. “Interrupting” something unfortunate or just plain wrong happening to someone else without speaking up and acting up to prevent the behavior from continuing also helps identify a citizen-warrior.  

The spirit of the citizen-warrior resides in all of us, though we personally may feel sometimes that we are not brave enough or smart enough to let it rise to the surface. It is worth very serious thought indeed to bring that spirit to the fore for the sake of our own selves, our families, our nation and our world. Aren’t these aspects of citizen-warrior-ship really another form of the fundamental imperative of every great religion: Do unto others…? Doesn’t every governmental leader, certainly those closest to the concerns and hopes of all people, have a special duty to adopt the citizen-warrior ethos?

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