Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Inspiration of Trenton

His 2,400 Americans, having been on their feet all night, wet, cold, their weapons soaked, went into the fight as if everything depended on them. Each man "seemed to vie with the other in pressing forward," Washington wrote.

"The troops behaved like men contending for everything that was dear and valuable," Knox wrote to Lucy.

John Hancock said that the victory at Trenton was all the more "extraordinary" given that it had been achieved by men "broken by fatigue and ill-fortune." [He continued with] "But troops properly inspired, and animated by a just confidence in their leader will often exceed expectation, or the limits of probability."
David McCullough, 1776, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005), 280, 282, 284.
The story of Washington & his troops crossing the Delaware River on Christmas 1776 has always been riveting to me. George Washington is a near mythical being in American history and the story has many legendary & fanciful elements to it. That a group of soldiers near death with nothing more than inspiration to live on could surprise and defeat a group of 1500 trained mercenaries is incredible. Though small in stature, the skirmish would be a catalyst for belief in the movement of independence. McCullough does an excellent job at creating the culture of fear & disappointment that dominated America in light of the power the British showed throughout most of 1776. One small victory (two if you count Princeton) would foster growth & trust in the American vision. What is critical for us today is to take historical events and not only remember their great significance to the shaping of today's world but how we can profit from their lessons as well. Here are a few things I am pondering in light of my recent reading of the battle.

The American soldiers were in a dreadful state. They were without hope & utterly destitute in their belongings and physical state. Yet despite their awful state - they pushed forward as if they could make a difference. They believed in rest on their shoulders to win and so stopped at nothing to make it happen. Do I believe this of myself? Do I push forward in my own role in the mission carved out for my life as if it depends completely upon me to make it work? If I do - then it doesn't matter how bad things get, I will push forward because I believe it is absolutely necessary for me to do so.

Next, the soldiers were fighting for the "dear and valuable" in their minds, lives, and world. The incredible lengths they went to were done without thought because it would have been insane not to. Quitting is not an option when you are fighting for what you believe in. I need to reorder my priorities to make sure I am constantly focused on the dear & valuable. It is when those goals are my focus that I will find the fight within me to put it all on the line. It is not possible to give it all when you don't believe in the end result. If I find myself not giving my all, I must question whether my intended goal is either not dear and valuable or whether I have lost my priorities.

Finally, the troops "exceeded expectation, or the limits of probability" because of inspiration. This has two parts to it in importance. The first deals with the ability to exceed expectation. It is easy to set limits on what can happen based upon the probability of such happenings. The problem is when we allow those limits to then set the bar upon which we will not seek to climb higher. In other words, once we have hit the target we stop pushing beyond. I must not allow myself to simply hit the finish line - I must desire to move beyond. Goals are great - but we need to believe we can continuously accomplish so much more than we believe. The second part deals with finding the inspiration to encourage. This either comes from the cause we are fighting for itself or the leaders we choose to follow. Mentors play such a huge role in life. The more inspiring the mentor, the more likely they will help us move beyond the finish line. Therefore it is absolutely important to pick & find causes and leaders that constantly get us to stretch ourselves beyond what we think we are capable of doing. When we have confidence in that which is biding us to push forward, we will not limit ourselves even when, like the American soldiers, we lack the "necessary tools & abilities" to do so.