The Center That Holds

The Vital Cornerstones of a Life

I answered the phone, and after the “Hi, how’re you doing,” he started the conversation with: “I believe many of these students have already formed the way they view life. If they don’t have basic honesty as part of who they are…” It was Tom Faught, one of my authors on the phone; he’d emailed me on what he was going to call about. “How will what I say have any meaning to them?”

Tom’s a veteran (a Marine) and Harvard-educated former Assistant Secretary of the Navy. He’s also been the CEO of a global company listed on the New York Stock Exchange. His book focused on corporate ethics and integrity; core values that define the responsibility CEOs have as stewards and leaders of companies: a comprehensive guide on how young executives can be ethical and still grow to become CEOs and senior executives. That was the topic he’d been invited to speak on by a major college. Hence his question which was an excellent one, one I’ve given a lot of thought to and written on before. We talked about it, and I gave him my perspective, which seemed to help for his speech. After hanging up, I continued to think about it and looked at my notes jotted down as I talked to Tom, one was a quote I had recalled and put at the top of the sheet of paper:

Everything is figured out, except how to live.” — attributed to Jean-Paul Sartre (1905—1980)

I’m a writer, and that entails a strong inclination for introspection, often deep thought on the ‘Why’ of things and to see the truth of human behavior, of cause and effect. I’m in my late 50s now… an age when life includes reflecting on what of it has been lived so far and the first tinge of wonder about how much of life is left. It’s sobering. So, I fully understand what Sartre meant.

I’m also a publisher who sees that big-name biographies and memoirs—representing ‘success’—are easily and routinely published: Testimonies to celebrity without talent, wealth without earning it, positions of power and authority without knowledge and experience as the foundation for judgment (many of our political leaders are stellar examples). The hypocrisy of them is almost overwhelming. Many are pages and pages of that in those books, and they sell because of their celebrity or money to fuel a well-oiled hype machine. While other books and memoirs—much more valuable to the reader (and to our society and nation)—remain to be discovered. I’ll share here something that came to me about such a memoir from another of my authors. It’s an email from one of the readers of his book:

From: Mark Faulkner
Sent: Thursday, June 01, 2017 1:48 PM
To: Richard Neal


I just finished reading your book and thoroughly enjoyed it. More importantly than being easy to read and hard to put down, it is packed full of lessons for success in life and service. What I found most impressive in your writing style was that the lessons were not delivered in an “in your face” fashion with lessons as titles of chapters or words bolded or underlined. Rather, they were delivered as part of one of your many life experiences, which, in my humble opinion, made them even more relevant and digestible. I just told Col. Woodbridge that I think this is a book that needs to get in front of CMC [Commandant of the US Marine Corps] for his consideration to be added to his professional reading list. I think it would be beneficial to our Corps’ younger officers for a number of reasons (discussion of importance of family, courage (and fright) in combat, jointness, etc.).

Semper Fidelis,
William M. Faulkner
LtGen, USMC (Ret.)

I’m going to pull some things from that email to touch on because I see them as vital cornerstones of life. The way the messages within Butch (Richard) Neal’s memoir was crafted (a direct reflection of who he is): no self-aggrandizing bullshit. Not a pretentious word or phrase. No ‘secrets of leadership’ hype; it’s straightforward lessons learned from experience. It’s teaching leadership real-time by example. The thread throughout of what’s important: Family doesn’t need elaboration or explanation, we all know the benefits of having family in our lives; when it is filled with mutual respect and love… they’re our anchor. How earned and given loyalty also makes for a sense of ‘family.’ Courage in the face of consequences (such as combat, when not all come out alive or unscathed) … that’s doing the right thing when it’s needed to be done. It’s the innate fulfillment of responsibility and accountability, two things all should live by and expect of others. The precepts of jointness, when different service (military) branches work together to support and fulfill specific missions. The working together to achieve a common goal (for the public good).

Why I feel those are meaningful requires a slight digression. There is a line from W.B. Yeats’ poem ‘The Second Coming’ (written in 1919 in the aftermath of the First World War), that has always fascinated (and concerned) me:

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold…”

I’ve never felt more than now, how important that warning is… how much I hope that it’s not a near-century old prophesy coming true.

I wrote the following some years ago. One of the countless things (some in pieces, some wholly-sewn fabric) that I’ve kept for the right time and place to use. Perhaps now is the time and this (this article) is the place:

A husk. The thing that seems to surround nothing but an empty space. That facade that everyone sees as being the substance. A husk.

A seed. A self-contained promise that if there’s a bit of soil… if it can get just enough water and light… it will grow. A seed.

Then soil, water, and light begin to work, leading to what’s next.

A push. In two directions, first downward… feeling, then setting the roots of who you are, and strengthening them. Then upward… reaching for more light… more sky… more life. A push.

When we—human’s—come upon something like that in the forest do we wonder how it happens? It’s just nature. Don’t question… just believe.

A whisper. A sound… an articulation of a word. Even if barely past your lips, it breaks the silence. Sometimes the start of a conversation. Even if it’s just saying to yourself, “I am good. I can fill any void… I can grow and be strong. I am the center that holds.” More compelling than a shout. A whisper.

The Center That Holds by Dennis LoweryNot to be dismissed as a mere military memoir, Butch’s story is about a man—once a small-town boy—who did just that. His personal philosophy and belief, his sense of loyalty to the deserving, is a center that holds. What LtGen Faulkner mentioned and what I wrote about above as cornerstones… are what can keep things (a person… a nation) together.

I’m not naïve. There is no easy solution to the issues we face in life (both individually and collectively as citizens of this country and world). Reading a memoir as good as Butch’s won’t solve problems. And perhaps what I’ve written here won’t be of much import to people stuck in their ways or unreceptive, but it’s not for them. It’s (and Butch’s memoir is) for those who might read and realign their thinking and for those who agree with what’s been written and do things in their own way to further the principle. I think that’s who Butch is hoping to reach, too especially those young officers in our military who bear such tremendous responsibilities and ultimately may become senior officers shaping policy at a national level.

Mostly, what I write here is for my children to read and think about what I try to teach them… to be a morally responsible person: to fiercely believe in the principles of family, courage, equality and togetherness. Those go a long way—are perhaps the only way—to create a better life and build a better world. To answer Sartre, that’s how we should live… and to Yeats I’ll say, that is the center that holds.

What Now Lieutenant - front cover 10-6-2016Richard ‘Butch’ Neal’s book is What Now, Lieutenant? Leadership Forged from Events in Vietnam, Desert Storm and Beyond. He is a retired 4-star general (USMC) and former Assistant Commandant of the US Marine Corps.

So You Want to be a CEO - by Thomas F. Faught, Jr.Thomas Faught’s book is So You Want To Be A CEO… The Path from Middle Management to the Top Job.

Dennis Lowery is a writer, author and the founder and president of Adducent, Inc. Adducent is a creative company that provides writing, story and book development and publishing services. It assists individuals and organizations with their writing needs and finds, develops, writes, ghostwrites and publishes stories and books with compelling and positive messages that are entertaining, enlightening, informative and enjoyable to read. Adducent and its founder believe in Cause-Based™ stories, and that is not just nonfiction; fiction stories work equally well, in some cases even better, to get the point across or to present a compelling message. Adducent works with clients internationally, and some have appeared on PBS NewsHour, 60 Minutes and MSNBC (not to mention other TV and radio shows nationally and in their local markets).

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