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The title selected for this column can be attributed to Aesop, the ancient Greek fabulist 620 BC, or perhaps English statesman Robert Grosseteste in the year 1253 AD or founding father John Dickinson in 1768 or Patrick Henry in 1799 or Abraham Lincoln in his famous house divided speech in 1858. More modern attribution to Churchill in 1941. Let me just simplify that today, it is the state motto of Kentucky. Regardless of to whom you wish to credit, it is a perfect segue to my thoughts today. As we now experience the third calendar year of pandemic navigation, it gives me cause for pause. A time for both reflection and introspection. It seems when you have four decades behind you in the steel distribution (PVF), fabrication and engineering industries, and a “six” in front of your age, one becomes more contemplative. With this in mind, I was recently asked what is my biggest fear going forward. A bit of an overarching question because does it mean in business, family, life, society at large? The question itself requires a bit of specificity; however, my answer applies to all. My fear is the growing divisiveness throughout our society and the motive of those fueling such. We have now reached a point where we live in a culture of contempt. I mean even Aristotle suggested: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Excuse the dated reference but; Danger Will Robinson, Danger.
Once upon a time, we fought over religious differences. Then racial differences. Then politics, the “go to” fight of many … definitely a slam dunk to divide … and today the list grows exponentially. Of recent battles I ponder, do we preserve history or erase such? Is the question why are we tearing down historic statues, or should the question be why are we allowing people to tear down those statues. Seems to me that a monument or memorial punctuates history and does not necessarily confirm one’s endorsement of the event commemorated. It’s our history and a history that ought not be forgotten good or bad. What about the caution of George Santayana who suggested, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Further it’s dangerous to debate historic events such as the Vietnam War with what we know today. Applying modern day standards to historical events is dangerous. My dad was a rural farmer from a large family and later a combat war veteran who carried his scars and disabilities throughout his life. When in trouble as a child, which was often the case with me, I was frequently on the receiving end of discipline, including the now taboo spanking and the dreaded belt … just like all the other kids in my neighborhood in that era. However, by today’s standards I suppose I was abused and as such entitled to sympathy, a government subsidy, or lower expectation of my performance. Can I not make the case that I was culturally disadvantaged? After all my family was poor and my father apparently a child abuser (tongue-in-cheek). I mean shouldn’t all kids be allowed to burn down the garage with the charcoal lighter fluid rather than sweep it out as an assigned chore?
However, I digress. Returning to our differences, today we divide by the haves and have nots, those working and those not, rich vs. poor, remote work vs. office, rural vs. city, and even CNN vs. Fox. In my Irish community we divide by lace curtain Irish or shanty Irish (I proudly hail from the latter class of blue collars). Get this…in the African American community they now have what is being called a “coloring agenda” whereby a divide is occurring between lighter skinned and darker skinned African Americans. Where does it all end – does it end at all? We now divide between the vaccinated and those opposed, the masked vs. the unmasked and on and on... Is the answer perhaps those with an agenda have perfected the exploitation of those who are incapable of thinking and deciding for themselves? In the end, could it be … might it be … that when we reach a point that the only thing the masses have in common is the government then the progressive agenda is complete. Yet none dare call it conspiracy. Churchill once offered that to understand the danger of a democracy is to just spend a few minutes with the average voter. A great perspective that I have previously shared suggests, “A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always count on the support of Paul.”
I elect not to engage in a scorched earth debate due to subject fatigue; I’m simply tired of it. However, my point is that in the end, successful people who build successful enterprises, create employment, pay taxes, and contribute to the overall health of the economy seem no longer valued. In fact, it is a growing circle that is denouncing capitalism and those responsible for it. In other words, “us.” I again caution this growing chorus by reminding everyone of the great quote of former Reagan administration economist Art Laffer (yes, the originator of famed napkin drawing of the Laffer curve) who said: “You can’t love jobs and hate the job creators.”
Anyway, my takeaway from all this is that my other life as an academic gives me exposure to countless other industries and countries. From that perspective, what distinguishes us in this field of pipe valve and fitting distribution is the absence of divisiveness. Yet ours is a hard-fought, scrappy, competitive industry, but in the end, it is a collegial industry that fosters mutual admiration and respect. We have found ways to disagree without being disagreeable. Yes, I hate losing orders to my competitors as much as you but, I don’t hate my competitors. In fact, many are friends — you know, hate the sin, not the sinner. While much talk in our industry centers around consolidation, there is no consolidation of capacity but rather the ownership of that capacity. Nobody likes the big boys, the Goliaths if you will, but truth be told they do exactly what all of us Davids would do if we were them. In the end, we proudly hail from the most essential industry of all, for without, society doesn’t function.
As the assaults upon us continue to grow, we must fight the forces of divisiveness. Never before has it been more important to circle the wagons. The best approach is to keep doing what you do: grow, invest, create jobs, be successful. Thank you for being you …
“Success in almost any field depends more on energy and drive than it does on intelligence.
“This explains why we have so many stupid leaders.” — Sloan Wilson