Bucking the system: V2 B1 C15


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Hugo paints Cambronne as the victor because he cursed in the face of death as he died. He compares Cambronne’s curse to the the Marseillaise – the stubborn rally song of the French Revolution.

“To fulminate such a word at the thunderbolt which kills you is victory.”

First, I don’t see a “divine wind” or courage in his act. Going down with the ship has to be for the right reason to be virtuous. Bonnie and Clyde weren’t heroes just because they went out in a blaze. It’s not about how you die anyway. It’s about how you live. Sure, giving your life for a just cause can be a virtuous act, but that makes all of the other soldiers, just as virtuous if their cause was just – irrespective of how long they lasted.

Second, I see these reasons for defiance of the circumstances even upon death: (1) fear, as if to admit the existence, let alone triumph, of an adverse circumstance is defeat itself, (2) pride, as if to say “I am better than you still, and you cannot make me do it,” (3) love, to stand in loyalty against evil because of love for God or others who might benefit from one’s suffering, (4) pure evil, which has drastically reduced perceived value of human lives (others as well as self), or (5) existentialism of Victor Frankel to make ones own reality through the power of being able to choose an attitude.

Finally, besides beligerance, other responses to an adverse circumstance would be:

  1. Resignation and adaptation.
  2. Looking past the setback to a Higher Order Purpose.
  3. Spend more energy on trying to overcome.

So I suppose Cambronne’s response might be a path worth choosing, and probably it was more about the emotional heat of the moment than any philosophical position. However, I see in myself a deficiency in stamina for the adverse circumstance such that I might use some philosophical reinforcements.


What’s worth dying for? V2 B1 C14


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The decision to fight to the death by the last few remaining French soldiers was made in a context of a battlefield. Perhaps these soldiers had been on such a battlefield before with such a real possibility and then faced death down. But probably they had not been in the shadow of such certain doom. I have faced death as a real possibility due to circumstances that I cannot control, but I lived. I might have missed out on the past 8 years of life which have been packed with wonderful personal growth, graduations and grandkids. When would I choose death? Certainly I would die to save a loved one, and probably even to accompany a loved one into death. Most likely I would die for other friends and strangers if it meant that I could protect them. But such choices are rarely if ever mine and therefore only exist in my virtual world. There is a clearer reality.

Greater love has no man than this: to lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).

See this excerpt from Oswald Chambers “utmost” website:

It is much easier to die than to lay down your life day in and day out with the sense of the high calling of God. We are not made for the bright-shining moments of life, but we have to walk in the light of them in our everyday ways.

Whether it is 40 years or 4 minutes, I will die, How I lay down my life is completely my choice! To create and implement plans for loving people well. To get excited about moments of joy with another person. To walk in the light of reality in this illusion of circumstance. Reality of God, reality of relationship, reality of life with God in relationship.

Better questions: Who have  I loved in these past eight years? Who will I lay my life down for? What high calling do I have today?

Poise in panic: V2 B1 C13


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As panic set in amongst the French army and great numbers fled south from the battlefield: only a few remained to stand and fight. What was the right thing to do at the time? What was the best thing to do at the time? I don’t think there was any time to consider the questions – it just happened. Were those who fled were morally inferior than those who stood and fought to their deaths?

Perhaps the best way to discriminate is to say that the fleeing troops were less invested for the goal of the battle than the generals. And perhaps this is natural and necessary.

Consider now the dynamics of the workplace. In general the manager seems more invested in the strategic objectives than those who do most of the actual work.

Consider the family. The parents are more invested in the goals of training for right living and of quality family time than the children.

Any disfunction here means that there is an abusive situation where the leaders who have positional power wield it to their personal advantage. What is the leaders job if not to have greater vision and drive toward the big objective?

But poise in panic is a lofty goal. At a smaller scale, there is daily practice. I desire to have confidence in my daily living, stepping boldly and sleeping soundly. Yes, to recognize when I have been insensitive, and quick to apologize, but to be OK with some level of offense since people’s expectations are often ridiculous. Mainly,  good leadership living is to listen well to God and to others, and be slower to speak. And when I am bothered, to not jump to the extreme, and to dampen the extreme reactions of others.

Everyman by Himself: V2 B1 C12


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Sauve qui peut! The ordinary French troops fled in retreat.

The destruction of the Imperial Guard was now at hand and they bravely marched to their deaths. To what purpose? What was worth dying for to them? Their nationalist pride? No, really a dedication to their leader even unto death. And it is always emotional, such dedication. Seldom considered rationally.

But what of the retreat where “everyman” was for himself? Was it any better for them? What of the man who did escape and knew that he had fled while fellow soldiers stood and fought? Would he be better off? Or would his thoughts be haunted by his past actions and find no restful solitude? Once he forsook the brotherhood of a cause unto death, could he find relief in a peaceful life with friends and neighbors? I hear the soldiers often struggle to find such rest. But the one who has, in the heat of battle, chosen to be by himself may never find companionship again.

And in our normal life in peaceful suburb, the man who chooses selfishly to live for himself, not choosing vulnerability to be known and dependent upon another, must be everyman. And as he grows crooked and alone, unchecked by perceptions from others and left to his own misguided and twisting ideas regarding himself, he must experience the loneliness and regret without a friend who knows him.

Everyman for himself

Everyman by himself.

Choice makes timing: V2 B1 C11


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Plancenoit was the choice. And as Hugo says, had the Prussians chosen some other door, the battle would have gone to Napoleon.

In such a manner we create our lives and shape the lives of others.

Types of decisions:

  1. Blind
  2. Difficult
  3. Self-sacrificing
  4. Disciplined
  5. Easy
  6. Mindless
  7. Wise
  8. Foolish
  9. Calculated
  10. Spontaneous
  11. Quick
  12. Long
  13. Selfish
  14. Deceived
  15. Put-off
  16. Joint
  17. Regular
  18. Repeated
  19. Mindless
  20. Premeditated
  21. Deliberate
  22. Dumb
  23. Rash
  24. Incomplete
  25. Waffling

Choose to love. Choose to exert energy. Choose to live.

Timing is everything: V2 B1 C10


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French: Cuirass is a piece of armor which covers the front of the torso. The Cuirassiers were cavalry equipped with cuirass and firearms.

English: The infantry squares were tightly fit and double-rowed arrangement of soldiers commonly used against calvary attack.

This confrontation at Mont Saint Jean seems a voluminous pouring out of the lives of men to decide the direction of Europe. And the picture of Wellington and his men hanging on to the final minute before Blucher’s cavalry arrives keeps me on the edge of my seat as I read of the account. But such “nick-of-time” occurrences are not uncommon on smaller scales.

The coincidental timings of two separate event paths crossing is outside the control of independent participants. But at Waterloo, Wellington and Blucher were not independent, and they indeed reached each other just in time. But when are these coincidences worth the effort, and when are the urgent difficulties and engagements more important than the strivings? At Waterloo the hindsight answer seems clear, but there are many instances where it is not, and the assessment itself is subjective.

Pace and rhythm are important topics that I have neglected to value as objects of study.  I have taken the view that I need to get as much accomplished as possible as soon as possible. The extra effort that I have to put in to getting everything done at once has only been important as it represents a certain amount of energy. But the timing issues are important all to themselves. A slow controlled walk with good posture is to be valued above a hurried race from one meeting to the next, just of itself.

There is timing that we cannot control, and then there is timing that we can. What are some symptoms that we are not exercising control of our timing?

  1. Being always in a hurry.
  2. Being impatient in traffic or in a queue.
  3. Always being late.
  4. Never being late.
  5. Not speaking in complete sentences.
  6. Not listening well.
  7. Often forgetting items.
  8. Racing back to get items forgot that could have been abandoned once it was realized that they were forgotten.
  9. Avoiding solitude and silence and fasting.
  10. Lamenting over idle time thrust upon us during waiting instead of rejoicing for the moments of meditation gained.

Live at the right pace and keep margins for spontaneity.


Speaking better: V2 B1 C9

Hugo says in this chapter that Napoleon finally reached his limit of immorality at Waterloo, where God had had enough of the death and destruction brought by his hand. Hugo seems to mix the karma idea in with a personal God of justice. He says:

“Reeking blood, overcrowded cemeteries, weeping mothers – these are formidable pleaders.”

Hugo says God hears the human sufferings and enough is enough.

The optimism makes sense to most people, whether they believe in a just God, or karma or whether they believe that people are basically good so that good will eventually win out over evil: most people believe that what goes around comes around. And I believe that most people know that they deserve worse than what they have gotten in life so far. I am definitely of that opinion regarding myself. Despite that I often play the victim in stories that I tell or complaints that I offer, when I honestly weigh the motives of my heart against the standard of right living to which I aspire in my clear-headed moments, I know that I have it really good and the other shoe could drop if I am exposed.

This is consistent with Genesis where we read that God spoke to Cain, “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground” (4:10).

But the jiu jitsu of it all was the work of Christ as described in Hebrews 12:

 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.

Whereas the selfish hurtful actions of each person bring consequences that are noticed by a just God, i.e. the “mornings from the deeps which the heavens hear,” the blood of Christ speaks better and provides a way again for us to approach a loving heavenly Father. Because his blood speaks better than the blood on the ground which I have spilled, I can speak better by my personal living.

  1. I can walk in freedom and gratitude without fear and anxiety.
  2. I can speak better for those who don’t deserve my mercy or kindness.
  3. I can please that God who made it possible for me to come to His mountain by speaking better for me.

Peek behind that different door!: V2 B1 C8

Today, I will decide something different. Just one little thing. But maybe two. And I will be observant to enter in to the little opportunities that arise. I will exchange a smile and a greeting for cold eye contact. I will speak a little differently with unusual care and thoughtfulness to my bride of 34 years.

Napoleon’s spy missed some small detail and it cost them the battle. Not today. Not me. How exciting to pry open the life events that lie behind the door of stopping to talk to that neighbor at the mailbox. How powerful the opportunity that lies behind following that subtle curiosity about taking that class, or joining that club, or just visiting that other neighborhood.

When we go on long trips down I75 or I40, we whiz by the same exits that I have seen for years. Some of them have signs that raise my curiosity every time I go by, but just not enough to interrupt my agenda off making time to my far destination. Its only those same Chik Fil A restaurants that have a strong enough pull to get us off for a pit stop – clean, fast, and convenient. But interruptions and different doors and new introductions are what vastly increase the quality and memorability of each day. Opportunity for relationship abounds.

The biggest decisions that I ever made were probably – who I am going to marry, and where was I going to work. The effects on those decisions by the apparent miscalculations and mistakes of others is clear  from a cause and effect vantage point. But there can be no responsibility (blame or credit) assigned for those who made the apparent errors. For each day is a new day and potential good deeds and wonderful joys are at hand through the doors of decision right now.


Napoleon’s Pride: V2 B1 C7

“The perfect smile belongs to God alone.” Proverbs 16:18 applies. Apparently Napoleon was in a good mood. Hugo paints him as extremely confident, as he directed ten thousands of men to their deaths. “Therefore his calamity will come suddenly; Instantly he will be broken and there will be no healing.” And there was the trench as Hugo points out. But other sources I read speak more about Marshall Ney’s impatience and foolish decisions. Still, it meant the end of the empire that threatened all of Europe.

Vain rulers beware. And although the humble suffer as well in this world, we do not know when tough circumstances might appear, but those of us who believe that God is who he says he is in the Bible, and that this apparent physical world is but a part of a much bigger reality, can also trust that our suffering is limited by his full knowledge and definitive lovingkindness. The vain ruler cannot be reassured by a God whom he is opposing by a prideful aim.


Wellington’s leadership: V2 B1 C6


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Go for it! We can do this! I want to do this! To achieve a goal, the team members must have a common attitude. So much depends on the resolve of individual men/women in the battle. Here is an example with Wellingtons troops, many of them them novices, but apparently found that extra strength within themselves – they wanted it worse than the professional soldiers of Napoleon that they faced. And such a resolve was modeled for them by their leader.

In the chapter, Hugo describes Wellington’s unrelenting attitude, and he relates 3 statements made by Wellington to motivate his men. Basically, they are: (1) If I am killed, follow my example, (2) Hold that spot that you are on to the last man, and (3) We must not be beat because they will say bad things about us at home.

So let me generalize these three even further to apply them to myself as a leader at work.

  1. Be an example of enthusiasm, commitment, and hard work.
  2. Make sure everyone knows how their job is important and that the rest of the group depends on them.
  3. Extrapolate to the legacy – we can be the heroes – maybe unsung – but heroes nonetheless.
We can take that mountain,
Though we die on this ground.
While the storms assail us,
We can choose right now.