What a Boxwood Can Teach Us About the Red Road
There’s an overgrown boxwood outside my window. Boxwoods, in case you didn’t know, are what make up those neat little hedgerows that populate English gardens and stairways to Heaven. They grow in tidy little packages that look marvelous when properly sculpted by somebody who understand topiary or at least basic gardening.
I learned by watching Jim, who also served as my local historian when we lived in Clarkston, just outside Glasgow, Scotland. It was Jim who told me that Rudolf Hess crashed his plane just a couple miles from my house. It was also Jim who taught me how to cut the lawn so we could reenact Wimbledon each summer. And it was Jim who showed me how a hedgerow should be cut.
Obviously the groundskeeping crew that my condo complex has hired never learned from a Jim. My guess is that the only real requirement for employment is a willingness to show up for work at minimum wage, and maybe some experience cutting grass or blowing leaves. But my beef isn’t with the guys who slog away in the hot sun for the price of a Jimmy Johns sandwich. It’s with the people who won’t pay to train them.
And there’s one simple reason why nobody wants to train people. They just don’t really care about the quality. All they care about is price.
I believe that we, as a culture, have lost respect for quality. This, more than anything in my mind, is why we’re up a creek in a chicken-wire canoe without a paddle. We choose cheap and loud over quiet quality almost every time.
That’s how we choose our leaders, our celebrities, and our role models. It’s how companies choose their vendors. It’s how we choose what we watch, what we buy, and where we shop.
For the past 15 or more years, immediate results have been gold, with cost taking the silver by a nose over sizzle. Unfortunately, quality barely makes the top 10. We want it now, next quarter is too late. That’s why people get rewarded for outsourcing jobs to save a couple bucks, while consumers begrudgingly accept inadequate quality because it’s the only way they can afford it at all.
Our acceptance of just barely adequate is how we have dug such a deep trench that we can’t find a way out. We’ve allowed ourselves to become complacent with mediocrity. Mediocrity is safe. It often feels comfortable. And, in my mind, it’s why we accept mediocrity (or less) in the people we elect to represent us. The problem is that we’re so far down the mediocre road that we’re afraid of even good. Never mind excellent.
In Lakota culture, they talk about the Red Road and the Black Road. The Black Road is the easy road. It’s wide and alluring. The Red Road is tough. It demands your best. It’s the good road, the road of quality. Mediocrity is the Black Road, and when the majority of a culture chooses the Black road, the Lakota believe that the culture dies.
Interestingly, in the Lakota culture, they don’t elect the most boisterous, the loudest, or the wealthiest person to lead. Those people rarely get more than a handful of followers. Instead, the Lakota look for the humble person who has proven him or herself, and ask them to assume the mantle of leadership.
“A humble person rarely stumbles, the old ones say, because such a person walks with face toward the Earth and can see the path ahead. On the other hand, the arrogant man who walks with his head high to bask in the glory of the moment will stumble often…” says Joseph M. Marshall, III, in The Lakota Way
Crazy Horse, one of the most famous Lakota leaders, walked through the village with his head down, even though he was considered one of their greatest warriors. He never told of his exploits — others had to do that. He, like most Lakota, believed that leadership meant putting the welfare of his people ahead of his own. And this is why people followed him.
Imagine if we had people like that leading our country. Not one or two, but the vast majority of them.
Had we chosen the Red Road, somehow I have to believe that we wouldn’t be on the brink of class warfare while adding to a multi-trillion dollar deficit. And we certainly wouldn’t have so many overgrown boxwoods.