Ulysses S. Grant was born on April 27, 1822 in Point Pleasant, Ohio. Most of us know him as the 18th President of the United States and the man on the front of a $50 bill.
He is often thought of as a “good man” for his commitment to civil rights, his prosecution of the Ku Klux Klan, and his overall sense of decency. But there’s a little known story I came across that makes me think he was also a man of courage.
Years ago, Ulysses S. Grant was sitting in a smoke filled room with several other general officers who were drinking and celebrating victory (after the civil war). One of the general officers could not wait to share a story that was clearly off color and asked, “Is there any women in the room?” He knew the answer to his question, but wanted to set the tone for his upcoming tale of filth.
Out of the quiet came the voice of Ulysses S. Grant who said, “No there is not a woman in the room. BUT THERE IS A GENTLEMAN,” and the story went untold.
Moment of Truth
Have you ever been in a situation like that? Where the conversation went a wrong direction and there you were, stuck in the middle of it?
I have, several times actually. And unfortunately, I’m too often guilty of not raising my voice–of not standing up for decency and integrity and all things good and true. But there were a few times I did stand up, and I’d like to share one of them with you. I don’t do this to boast, but to only stimulate your thinking and cause you to evaluate your own level of courage.
Would You Please Keep It Down?
Years ago, my wife, kids, and some of my brothers and their families were at the river playing in the sand and water on a warm, sunny summer day. The beach actually had quite a few people that day (this was in Vancouver, WA and when the sun comes out, you take advantage).
We were having a great time throwing the football, building sand castles, eating every form of processed snack food imaginable. It was good times…until a group of 20-something years olds showed up.
They brought their music, their drinks, and their foul mouths. They completely changed the atmosphere the second they arrived.
I was in the water playing with my 2 year old and about 20 feet away, these girls were dropping every expletive known to man. They quickly spoiled the fun for me, my family, and everyone around us.
I had a decision to make: these kids are obviously in their own little world and have no respect for anyone else around them, so let’s just gather our things and move to a different location. That seemed like a good option.
But after thinking about it, we weren’t the only ones being affected by their behavior. There were tons of people around us who were well within the sound of the filth.
The situation was getting worse, and something needed to happen. Someone needed to do something. But I didn’t want to be the one that goes over to them. Just the thought made me uncomfortable. I try to avoid confrontation as much as possible, so I was ready to sidestep the inevitable showdown that was quickly approaching.
But something needed to happen, and it got to the point that I couldn’t take it any longer. I marched (calmly) right over to that group of girls just in time to hear another expletive leave their mouth. I didn’t yell, scream, or get worked up.
I spoke in a “matter of fact” sort of way and simply said, “Hey, my kids are right next to you and can hear everything you’re saying right now. Would you please keep it down?”
The girls looked at me, and then looked at my kids, and quickly apologized and instantly cleaned up their language.
Done. I did it, and it felt immensely satisfying silencing the beast. The family-friendly atmosphere returned and we enjoyed the rest of our time on the beach.
How This Relates to Success
This story probably won’t impress anyone and for sure won’t become a book or movie. Then why am I sharing this otherwise uneventful experience? Because my definition of success includes having the courage to stand up for what is right, no matter the circumstances, and I hope your definition does too.
I also know for a fact that I’m not the only one who confronts decisions like this on a daily basis. The decision to speak up and defend the truth and goodness is not a new challenge. Ulysses S. Grant and every other human that preceded him faced the test.
In a world that is becoming increasingly inappropriate, unsafe, and immoral, we need more people who are willing to stand up for what is right.
I would give anything to go back in time and speak up for what I know is right, moral, and true, but I can’t. Those moments are gone forever. But I can and have made a resolution to not let another opportunity go by where I say nothing, and I hope you will too.
Aristotle said it best: “Courage is the mother of all virtues because without it, you cannot consistently perform the others.” He also said: “There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.”
My challenge to you: the next time you are faced with an opportunity to defend what is right, what is moral, and what is true, SPEAK UP. If you don’t, who will? The world needs you and your courage more than ever before.