When I think about Nations and people, it is remarkable how similar the traits are that lead to growth, success and long term stability.
The life cycle of an individual is around 80 or so years, while the life cycle of a Nation could be hundreds or even thousands.
However, as with people Nations go through a range of growth periods....starting as youngsters learning how to walk, they develop into young adults with energy matching their belief that anything can be achieved. Maturity starts setting in and that energy becomes tempered and controlled, leading to a long period of sustained and steady growth, reasonably assuring of a good future. Retirement eventually arrives and the successes of the past can be enjoyed in the twilight years. The more stable the mature years, the more comfortable will the retirement years be. Finally, death comes....to some it is peaceful, to others it is painful and prolonged.
Nations....a life cycle that mimics our own.
As I pondered this, and wondered if there was anything to learn here, I discovered that there is a real pattern here...a pattern that recurs in every part of our lives.
Our school years follow the same pattern. Our hobbies follow the same pattern. Our relationships, our romances, our careers...every aspect of our lives follow a pattern that is a series of steps where one action becomes the foundation for the next action. If that first action is not right, then ultimate failure can be averted only by making better decisions, working harder, going back and re-doing the previous step etc etc
There is no way around this...it is part of the fabric of life...and applies equally to people as it does to Nations.
In September 1983 I started travelling through the African nations...my trek starting in Capetown,South Africa and ending in London, England more than 6 months later. Travelling through Africa at that time was extremely arduous...and dangerous. Most African nations were on the verge of social upheaval and a small group of white tourists were seen as the enemy in many places. But that is another story....
What I wanted to talk about was Mount Kilimanjaro...at 19, 366 feet it towers out of the Tanzanian plains, it's snow capped summit looking strangely out of place as a backdrop for the elephants, lions, giraffes and other animals roaming the Tanzanian plains.
When I first saw that mountain, I knew I HAD to climb it.
After a couple of days at the Arusha Coffee Lodge at the base of the mountain, it was time to start the attempt to the summit. Now, today there are many ways to climb this mountain...the numbers of people successfully ascending the summit number in the thousands every year....
Not so a quarter century ago when the number of climbers reaching the summit numbered in the high hundreds...for all time, not per year. Our small group split up, with some climbing and the others camping at the base. We hired porters to carry our gear, and guides to lead us....and started climbing.
This is not the sort of climb that you would normally think of as a mountain climb. It is far more a hike...albeit a very tough hike. Today, the tour operators suggest 6 - 7 days for the climb. We did it in 3 and a half. The climb takes you through no fewer than 5 climate zones, starting with almost a sub-tropical feel and ending in the nothingness that is little more than snow covered shale that moves precariously with every step.
Every step taken on that climb was a step toward victory. Every step a step closer to altitude sickness. Every step a test of endurance. (I was a smoker in those days...and even in the thin air of altitude I would stop for a smoke break...a testament to how powerful the nicotine cravings are that smokers must endure. I cannot recall which was worse...the craving or the pain of filling ones lungs with smoke even when they were not getting sufficient oxygen for breathing!)
At the end of the first days hike we arrived at a small hikers cabin, with beds and walls that were mostly effective against the night air. A hot meal of beef stew cooked by the porters, a taste of Safari Lager (worst beer in the world...but tasted like the nectar of the God's that day!)...and I stretched in my sleeping bag and slept fitfully for a few hours before being woken at first light for the next day's hike.
Day 2 was not as steep but was longer and far more grueling. A weather change came bringing at first rain and then, as we continued higher, strong winds and snow...turning into a blizzard and near white-out conditions as we reached the cabin for the second night's stop.
Another bottle of Safari Lager and a little more of yesterdays stew sent me into a deep slumber notwithstanding the ache in my muscles which had never received such a beating before.
Day three was a shorter day....the storm had passed through during the night, and we continued our climb in the crisp fresh air of a mountain morning. While oxygen was getting thinner, and my lungs were screaming for more, I felt good...confident that the final days climb would be possible, and that I could reach the summit.
At the end of that day we reached the final cabin, where we were encouraged to sleep early. Were were told to drink a lot of water, but were given no food. The cabin was soon filled with the snores of people who had pushed their bodies to the extreme and were now grabbing a good sleep while they could.
Not for long though. At 1am we were awoken...given a stale cookie and some water and geared up for the final ascent...the assault on the summit. With nothing but a dim flashlight held by our guide, and whatever moonlight was available we started the slow criss-crossing climb up the final thousand vertical feet to the summit. It was brutally cold. The wind whipping across the face of the mountain threatened to blow us off. The snow was around a foot deep and with every step forward the shale underneath moved and we would slide backwards again.
At around 7am that morning, just as the sun was rising to the east, I reached the summit.
I had done it. I had challenged the mountain, and I won.
I felt unbeatable. I felt the sun start to warm my frozen cheeks as I looked out over the plain below. The sun's rays were bringing it alive and I felt alive. Not because I was at that point in time standing literally on top of the African continent (although that was pretty cool)...but because I had challenged myself to do something that I thought was extraordinary...and that I had refused to give in to the physical pains, to the threatening altitude sickness, to the utter exhaustion of pushing my body beyond known limits. I had fought all these things...and I had won.
I had won.
So...how does this relate to the thought of Nations and life-cycles?
Well, my journey to the top of Kilimanjaro is just one example of what can be accomplished if we look at what we do as a series of actions rather than as one big event.
To succeed in my climb, I needed several things:-
- a basic degree of physical and mental fitness - several months of travelling through Africa had already toughened my body and mind and prepared them for the rigors of the mountain
- guides...people to go before me to show me the way
- porters....people to help me carry the load
- the right equipment....I hired boots and jackets for the higher altitudes while my trusty walking shoes were adequate for the lower levels. In any event, the money spent ensuring I had reasonable equipment for the final couple of days paid off...as several members of our party failed to reach the summit because they failed to make sure they had the right equipment
- determination - I simply was going to make it
I am sure many of my readers have experienced winning a personal battle or achieving their own personal goals as did I. It makes no difference what the goal is...the same things are required as listed above.
And it is the same with Nations.
To build a Nation that will progress through its life cycle in a good way, as opposed to being destroyed under it's own weight, the same things are required.
A Nation needs it's guides...America has its founders who clearly understood the risks and did everything they could to structure the Nation to be strong and independent. The Constitution is their road-map.
A Nation needs to be fit, in good shape...both physically and mentally. The moral guidance of faith, and the belief in the goodness of man, and a reliance on strength of character will be the mainstay of a strong Nation.
A Nation needs porters...someone who will help carry the load. These porters are its allies around the world. Other Nations that have similar belief structures, that will support and help defend when necessary, and will remain a friend throughout time.
A Nation needs the right equipment. An economic structure that teaches the people to rely on their own creativity, encourages the people to share their skills and knowledge, and empowers the people to achieve their dreams. A structure that stifles creativity and stifles freedom will clearly shorten the life of that Nation.
Above all, a Nation requires determination. It requires a belief by its people that not only is it exceptional, but it is fair, that it can and will succeed...by putting one foot in front of the other.
Does this describe our Nation today?
Or have we turned our back on our guides...the founders with their road-map?
Does America retain the morality and faith that allows her to remain mentally and physically prepared? Or has she lost sight of the value of these things?
Does America treat her porters well...or has she insulted them, turned her back and ignored them?
Has America's economic structure been developed to free people or to enslave them?
Do the American people have the determination to climb that mountain?
Friends, there are mountains this Nation must climb that make my Kilimanjaro effort look no more difficult than a walk in the park...but if this Nation is to survive, she must not only climb those mountains but be prepared to fight every step of the way.
Are you ready to climb those mountains with her?