Reviving the Forgotten Man

This week’s quote comes from the speech, The Forgotten Man, given by William Graham Sumner in 1883.

The Forgotten Man…delving away in patient industry, supporting his family, paying his taxes, casting his vote, supporting the church and the school…but he is the only one for whom there is no provision in the great scramble and the big divide.  Such is the Forgotten Man. He works, he votes, generally he prays–but his chief business in life is to pay…Who and where is the Forgotten Man in this case, who will have to pay for it all?

When you’re driving change you have no forgotten man.  You have answered the question, “Who will have to pay for it all?” and found no one.  Pay in the sense of be taxed (physically, emotionally or financially) against his will to create your change. Your changes are not unfunded mandates, impossible to follow rules or zero tolerance policies. When you’re driving change you’re not forcing a decision, you’re offering a choice, welcoming all who would like to join your cause.

A visualization:

You can tell when someone is driving people because their path is littered with the bodies of forgotten men.  As you look down the path, you can see not only the bodies, but the causes of their deaths.

This man died implementing an unfunded mandate.

This woman’s lost her mind trying to follow an impossible rule.

Look at the way this man’s head slumps into his chest.  His spirit was broken while enforcing a zero tolerance policy on someone who didn’t deserve the punishment.

Wipe that scene from your eyes and start again.

When you’re driving change, you see a wide road filled with willing marchers (and even a few runners), each eagerly participating in the journey, because they chose to join it.  They are choosing to tax themselves, physically, emotionally and often financially, because they believe in the noble cause they’re trying to serve.

Now merge the two pictures.

The willing marchers driving change has overtaken the ground filled with the bodies left after years of driving people.

Look! The willing marchers have stopped and are reviving the forgotten men.

They stoop to where the bodies lay, whispering about a chance to feel change filled with enthusiasm, energy, and joy.

They offer  a promise of partnership, and a commitment to “do no harm.”

The forgotten men arise, turn their faces toward the change and the march resumes, enlarged.

How did you like the visualization?

I could tell you more than a few stories about those joyful journeys and fabulous rebirths.  I’m happy to say I’m surrounded by those marchers and those events most days.

Before you leave the scene, consider those that offer their frustrated cries, asking you to both stop your journey and turn back.  These frustrated souls are the people who feel some threat from your journey to change, and these frustrated souls are not the same as the forgotten man.

Why are they frustrated?  Sometimes they see you driving change, but feel instead the heel of someone driving people.  Someone else is making a forgotten man out of them.  While you offer the opportunity for the frustrated souls to join the journey, someone else is standing behind them, prodding them to march along.  These frustrated souls must take their case to the one that gives the order, not to you.

Nor should you heed their frustration-induced advice that you must drive their abuser to change to save them.

These frustrated souls will not find relief in either of those actions, though they will fight to convince you they will.

Though it will pain them, the reality is that frustrated souls only find relief in one of two places: in a metaphorical death, becoming a body along the path or when they take you up on your offer to join the journey and learn how to drive change. Sadly, I’ve seen many of these souls choose neither way to relief, staying locked in the place of their suffering, tormenting all those who pass by while driving change.

If you’ve chose to take the journey to drive change, look for the forgotten men.   Do not tax him without his consent. Instead, offer him the chance to join you.  You’ll be surprised how often he will.

1 thought on “Reviving the Forgotten Man”

  1. Pingback: Reviving the Forgotten Man (again) « Engine For Change

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