Robert Gates: John Wayne – one of my favorite philosophers

T’is the season when bunches of young people here and there sit in fancy graduation robes and hats and listen to the advice some important person is giving them in a commencement address.

President Obama gave quite a few of that kind of speeches himself. All of them were carefully analyzed and even twittered.

There was another leader in the US Government giving commencement address this week: the Defense Secretary Robert Gates spoke at the Kaiserslautern High School in Germany, a school composed mostly of children of US service members and Foreign Service officers.

It is a fascinating speech and I recommend to President Obama to spare a minute to read it.

The overwhelming theme of the Obama reign has been the ‘Open Gov: Transparency, Participation, Collaboration’.

There is a reason why this slogan is not tuning well with the majority of the American people: while the Open Government idea created by Karl Popper and spread by George Soros is well accepted in the elite circles many folks around America find it foreign.

Defense Secretary Gates gives us another formula – that makes much more sense: Honesty, Service, Courage.

In the nearly 45 years since joining the government, I’ve been privileged to work for eight presidents. As a result, I’ve learned a few things about service, and a few things about leadership…

There are a few basic qualities of leadership that hold true no matter what career you pursue. One of those things is integrity – I’m talking about honesty, telling the truth, being straight with others and yourselves. In the movie The Alamo, John Wayne – one of my favorite philosophers – says: “There’s right and there’s wrong. You’ve got to do one or the other. You do the one, and you’re living. You do the other and you may be walking around, but you’re as dead as a beaver hat.”

Second, courage: the courage to do what is right and not just what is popular. Educational institutions, and business and government experts, all talk a lot these days about teamwork, team building, and collaborative efforts. That is important. However, the time likely will come someday when you see something going on that you know is wrong. You may be called to stand alone, and say, “I disagree with all of you. This cannot be allowed.” Don’t kid yourself – that takes courage.

Third, real leaders treat other people with common decency and respect. Too often, those who are in charge demonstrate their power by making life miserable for their subordinates – just to show they can. President Truman had it right when he said: “Always be nice to all the people who can’t talk back to you.” In America today, we badly need people with these three traits – integrity, courage, common decency. We need real leaders in all walks of life.

We also need people to step up and be of service to others. It has been the sacrifice of those willing to step forward at a time of crises and conflict – men and women like so many present today – that has made it possible for us to live free and secure.

Isn’t it great to have a leader:

- whose favorite philosopher is not Mao, but John Wayne;

- who understands that transparency is not possible without having honesty first;

- who understands that participation means not just being present but being ready to sacrifice and serve;

- who understands that not arrogance but common decency is the best way to approach each and every person?

If this doesn’t make you read the speech, I’ll give you a hint: there is a great spy story in it. Take a look!

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