By Ron Ciancutti
Robert G. Ingersoll, after visiting the tomb of Napoleon:
A little while ago I stood by the grave of Napoleon, a magnificent tomb of gilt and gold, fit almost for a dead deity, and gazed upon the sarcophagus of black Egyptian marble where rests at last the ashes of the restless man. I leaned over the balustrade and thought about the career of the greatest soldier of the modern world.
I saw him walking upon the banks of the Seine contemplating suicide; I saw him at Toulon; I saw him putting down the mob in the streets of Paris; I saw him at the head of the army of Italy; I saw him crossing the bridge at Lodi with the tricolor in his hand; I saw him in Egypt in the shadows of the pyramids; I saw him conquer the Alps and mingle the eagle of France with the eagles of the crags. I saw him at Marengo, at Ulm and Austerlitz. I saw him in Russia, where the infantry of the snow and the cavalry of the wild blast scattered his legions like winter's withered leaves. I saw him at Leipsic in defeat and disaster, driven by a million bayonets back upon Paris, clutched like a wild beast, banished to Elba. I saw him escape and retake an Empire by the force of his genius. I saw him upon the frightful field of Waterloo, when chance and fate combined to wreck the fortunes of their former king. And I saw him at St. Helena, with his hands crossed behind him, gazing out upon the sad and solemn sea.
I thought of the orphans and widows he had made, of the tears that had been shed for his glory and of the only woman who had ever loved him pushed from his heart by the cold hand of ambition.
And I said I would rather have been a French peasant and worn wooden shoes. I would rather have lived in a hut with a vine growing over the door and the grapes growing purple in the kisses of the autumn sun. I would rather have been that poor peasant with my loving wife by my side, knitting as the day died out of the sky, with my children upon my knee and their arms about me. I would rather have been that man and gone down to the tongue-less silence of the dreamless dust than to have been that imperial impersonation of force and murder known as Napoleon the Great.
And so I would ten thousand times.
Rogert G. Ingersoll was one of many courageous intellectuals who chose to be politically incorrect during the Golden Age of Free Thought. Born in 1833, his ideas were radical at the time and followed him all his years until he died in 1899. He claimed to be agnostic, saying he had neither faith nor a real denial of God’s existence. But this position drove people crazy. They couldn’t categorize him or box him into one definition. His statements were, however, undeniable:
· “The greatest test of courage on earth is to bear defeat without losing heart.”
· “Happiness is the only good. The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here. The way to be happy is to make others so.”
Agree To Disagree
Currently, the president of our country makes people crazy. He is difficult to assess. He is moody, often changing his mind at unlikely times. He is brash and unbridled and sometimes seems to go out of his way to say the wrong thing at the worst possible moment. Yet the economy has been soaring for quite a while now under his watch. He chooses to be politically uninfluenced. Sometimes it seems to work for him.
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick historically took a knee during the national anthem a while back. The whole world had an opinion, and he was vaulted to fame for it, banking more money as an advertising icon than he’d have ever made as a professional ballplayer. Right or wrong, he stirred things up in an era when everyone is afraid to speak out or hold his ground; Kaepernick expressed himself and it made people crazy. Because he should have more respect.
Because people should listen to him.
Because deep down many people wish they did it themselves.
Because nobody should listen to him.
Thus, the curse/blessing of having little regard for political correctness.
The words Ingersoll expressed above when he wrote of Napoleon were considered a sacrilege at the time. How could a man challenge the accomplishments of the great Napoleon?
Simple—contrast him with the blessedness of a man with simple means and simple wants, and a picture emerges of a man much more centered and thoughtful and happy with himself. The inner peace came from being proud of the man he was, not the man whose accomplishments were headlines or part of history. The simple man does not have to worry about political correctness because he simply is who he is. Twenty-four hours a day, he is himself. If you don’t like that, it’s YOUR problem, not his.
Does It Matter?
You see, the political correctness of this time is tempting the death of independent thought and the beauty of self-satisfaction.
Ad executives are all in a fuss over the sinking popularity of professional sports on television. Ratings for The World Series and Summer Olympics and NFL Football have these folks baffled and flustered. The fact is the audience is changing. The popularity of sports is giving way to the instantaneous rendering of a score through the source of all data in your pocket.
Why sit before a TV and watch a game? I’ll get the score, and if there is a really big moment or play that changed the course of the game, I’ll see it for the next three days on the highlight reel on every news medium out there. This generation is not worried about scores. They are more worried about themselves, and somehow it works for them.
So as our attention grows more passive, the “meaning” of accomplishments clearly fades. Ask yourself who won the World Series this year. Unless you are from that particular home town, I bet you don’t know. How about two years ago? See? It’s not really that important—unless you choose to make it so.
So why is political correctness so critical? Why should we couch our thoughts and opinions to be sure we don’t damage the fragile egos of those who choose to be offended? There was a time when being politically correct meant to be considerate. Now it’s a tightrope walk with the demons of hell waiting for you to fall into the pit and be devoured.
Personally, I try my best each day to live a life that doesn’t offend people. If I make a bad joke or a tasteless comment, I hope the people who know me would say, “He didn’t mean that offensively” or “He misspoke—he’s not really like that.” That I can defend AND gladly apologize for, but this business of retracting every slip of judgment or erroneous utterance?
And so I would ten thousand times.
Ron Ciancutti worked in the parks and recreation industry since he was 16 years old, covering everything from maintenance, operations, engineering, surveying, park management, design, planning, recreation, and finance. He is now retired. He holds a B.S. in Business from Bowling Green State University and an M.B.A. from Baldwin Wallace University. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.