In the early 18th Century, three young colonial Americans resolved to build lives of virtue through the study and application of daily resolutions.
George Washington, through tireless sacrificial leadership and against indescribable odds, defeated the mighty British Empire with his ragtag group of colonial volunteers.
Benjamin Franklin, through sterling character and endless tact, became America’s leading diplomat, forming international alliances that secured war funding, without which the colonial’s cause would have been doomed.
Jonathan Edwards, by his overwhelming intellectual and spiritual gifts, became colonial America’s greatest minister and fanned the flames of the Great Awakening that led to further political and economic freedoms after the American Revolution.
These three men transformed themselves through the diligent study and application of their personal resolutions. Through developing, studying, and consistently applying their resolutions, these men changed not only themselves, but also the world.
Jose Ortega y Gassett wrote in his book, Revolt of the Masses,
“The most radical division that is possible to make of humanity is that which splits it into two classes of creatures: those who make great demands on themselves, piling up difficulties and duties; and those who demand nothing special of themselves, but for whom to live is to be every moment what they already are, without imposing upon themselves any effort towards perfection; mere buoys that flow on the waves.”
Washington, Franklin, and Edwards achieved lasting greatness not as floating buoys, but by swimming against the current.
Resolving to be different, they nurtured themselves on principles not personalities, seeking the true greatness of character, not the false friendship of fame.
Society has lost its commitment to character displayed by these great men. We’ve come to value image over integrity, commercialism over character, and fame over foundations. But what a high price has been paid for these errors.
Life’s enduring principles have fallen victim to today’s microwave-age thinking. Everyone wants success, but most settle for planting “personality ethic” tomatoes, when true success requires nurturing “character ethic” oak trees in the field of achievement.
It’s time to get out of the tomato patch, returning to the foundational forest of character development, the forest which fed mighty oaks like Washington, Franklin, and Edwards.
True character-based leadership requires endless hours of self-examination, a process of comparing our actions to our resolutions, and making the needed changes to grow in character.
The people who take shortcuts in their character development only end up shortening themselves.
Those who do the long, hard, necessary work become what economist William Roepke calls the “natural nobility.” As he explains it,
“Only a few from every stratum of society can ascend into this thin layer of natural nobility.
“The way to it is an exemplary and slowly maturing life of dedicated endeavor on behalf of all, unimpeachable integrity, constant restraint of our common greed, proved soundness of judgment, a spotless private life, indomitable courage in standing up for truth and law, and generally the highest example.
“This is how the few, carried upward by the trust of the people, gradually attain to a position above the classes, interests, passions, wickedness, and foolishness of men and finally become the nation’s conscience.
“To belong to this group of moral aristocrats should be the highest and most desirable aim, next to which all the other triumphs of life are pale and insipid…
“The continued existence of our free world will ultimately depend on whether our age can produce a sufficient number of such aristocrats of public spirit.”
The best way to become such a person is to build trust with others by building trust in oneself. Following through on one’s own deeply-held principles through the use of his resolutions, therefore, is the path to build both personal and public trust.
Simply put, any person who cannot trust himself to follow through on his convictions shouldn’t be shocked when others refuse to trust his convictions as well.
Sadly, few people today have have developed, written, studied, and applied specific resolutions into their lives.
In the Western World, character development through written resolutions is a lost art. With this loss, significance, meaning, and morality are also fading. The West is fatally wounded, having stabbed itself in the heart.
To protect our freedoms and restore our greatness, we need an army of resolution creators and keepers who follow the example of Washington, Franklin, and Edwards. We need a new “natural nobility,” a wave of “moral aristocrats” who rise from the ashes of an all but destroyed Western culture.
Will you be among them? Will you resolve to live a life of greatness? Will you resolve to conquer your weaknesses and develop unyielding character?
I challenge you to do so. Your life will only be as great, your contribution only as valuable to the extent that you make specific, written resolutions to yourself and live them with uncompromising integrity.
Orrin Woodward co-authored the New York Times bestseller Launching a Leadership Revolution. His first solo book, RESOLVED: 13 Resolutions for LIFE, made the Top 100 All-Time Best Leadership Books List. Orrin was awarded as the 2011 IAB Leader of the Year.
Orrin has co-founded two multi-million dollar leadership companies and serves as the Chairman of the Board of the LIFE Business. He has a B.S. degree from GMI-EMI (now Kettering University) in manufacturing systems engineering. He holds four U.S. patents, and won an exclusive National Technical Benchmarking Award.
He follows the sun between residences in Michigan and Florida with his lovely wife Laurie and their children. Orrin’s leadership thoughts are shared on his blog, orrinwoodwardblog.com.