Labor Day of 2010, we reflect on the spirit of the
American labor team of entrepreneurs and workers. This
is an excerpt of a classic piece of literature by Elbert
Hubbard. Written before the industrial boom of the
1900's and reprinted throughout the World for more than 110
years, it is again as relevant as ever. The "don't ask
questions, get the job done" message is used as a
motivational message, if not done so in a somewhat biting
manner. For many reasons, it is required reading by
every person who is or will be a wage-earner.
celebrates the initiative of a soldier who is assigned
and accomplishes a daunting mission. He asks no
questions, makes no objections, requests no help, but
accomplishes the mission. The essay exhorts the
reader to apply this attitude to his own life as an
avenue to success. Its wide popularity reflected the
general appeal of self-reliance and energetic problem
solving in American culture.
A Message to Garcia
When war broke out, it was very necessary to communicate
quickly with the leaders. General Garcia was somewhere
in the mountain vastness -- no one knew where. No mail
nor telegraph message could reach him. But, the
President needed to secure his cooperation, and quickly.
What to do!
Someone said to the
President, "A fellow by the name of Rowan will find
Garcia for you." So, Rowan was given the
message to be delivered to Garcia.
Rowan took the letter, sealed
it, strapped it over his heart, and, in four days, he landed
by night off the coast from an open boat. He
disappeared into the jungle, and, in three weeks, came out
on the other side of the island, having traversed the
hostile country on foot. [He delivered the letter to Garcia, but that is not my point.]
The point I wish to make is
this: the President gave Rowan a letter to be delivered to
Garcia. Rowan took
the letter and did not ask, "Where is he at?"
By the Eternal!
This man's form should be
cast in deathless bronze and the statue placed in every
college of the land. It is not book-learning young men
need, nor instruction about this and that. Men need a stiffening of
their vertebrae which will cause them to be loyal to a trust,
to act promptly, concentrate their energies: do the thing --
"Carry a message to Garcia!"
is dead now, but there are other Garcias.
You, reader, put this matter
to a test: You are sitting now in your office -- six clerks
are within call. Summon
any one and make this request: "Please look in the
encyclopedia and make a brief memorandum for me concerning
the life of
will look at you out and ask one or more of
the following questions:
Who was he?
Where is the encyclopedia?
Was I hired for that?
Don’t you mean Bismarck?
What’s the matter with Charlie doing it?
Is he dead?
Is there any hurry?
Shan’t I bring you the book and let you look it up
What do you want to know for?
And I will lay you ten to one
that after you have answered the questions, and explained
how to find the information, and why you want it, the clerk
will go off and get one of the other clerks to help him try
to find Garcia -- and then come back and tell you there is
no such man. Of course I may lose my bet, but
according to the Law of Average, I will not.
Now, if you are wise, you
will not bother to explain to your "assistant"
that Correggio is indexed under the C’s, not in the K’s,
but you will smile sweetly and say, "Never mind,"
and go look it up yourself.
We have recently been hearing
much maudlin sympathy expressed for the "downtrodden
denizen of the sweat-shop" and the "homeless
wanderer searching for honest employment," and with it
all often go many hard words for the politicians.
Nothing is said about the
employer who grows old before his time in a vain attempt to
get frowsy never-do-wells to do intelligent work; and the long patient striving with "help" that does
nothing but loaf when his back is turned. In every
store and factory there is a constant weeding-out process
going on. The employer is constantly sending away
"help" that have shown their incapacity to further
the interests of the business, and others are being taken
on. No matter how good times are, this sorting
continues, only if times are hard and work is scarce, the
sorting is done finer -- but out and forever out, the
incompetent and unworthy go.
It is the survival of the
Self-interest prompts every employer to keep the
best -- those who can carry a message to Garcia.
I know one man of really
brilliant parts who cannot manage a business of his own, and
is yet absolutely worthless to any one else, because he
carries with him constantly the insane suspicion that his
employer is oppressing, or intending to oppress him.
He cannot give orders, and he will not take them.
Tonight this man walks the
streets looking for work, the wind whistling through his
threadbare coat. No one who knows him dare employ him,
for he is a regular fire-brand of discontent. He is
impervious to reason, and the only thing that can impress
him is the toe of a thick-soled No. 9 boot.
Of course, I know that one so
morally deformed is no less to be pitied than a physical
cripple; but in our pitying, let us drop a tear, too, for
the men who are striving to carry on a great enterprise,
whose working hours are not limited by the whistle, and
whose hair is fast turning white through the struggle to
hold in line dowdy indifference, slip-shod imbecility, and
the heartless ingratitude, which, but for their enterprise,
would be both hungry and homeless.
Have I put the matter too
strongly? Possibly I have. But, when all the
world has gone a-slumming, I wish to speak a word of
sympathy for the man who succeeds -- the man who, against
great odds has directed the efforts of others, and having
succeeded, finds there’s nothing in it: nothing but bare
board and clothes.
I have carried a dinner pail
and worked for day’s wages, and I have also been an
employer of labor, and I know there is something to be said
on both sides. There is no excellence, per se, in
poverty; rags are no recommendation; and all employers are
not rapacious and high-handed, any more than all poor men
My heart goes out to the man
who does his work when the "boss" is away, as well
as when he is at home. And the man who, when given a
letter for Garcia, quietly take the missive, without asking
any idiotic questions, and with no lurking intention of
chucking it into the nearest sewer, or of doing aught else
but deliver it, never gets "laid off," nor has to
go on a strike for higher wages.
Civilization is one
long anxious search for just such individuals.
Anything such a man asks shall be granted; his kind is so
rare that no employer can afford to let him go. He is
wanted in every city, town and village -- in every office,
shop, store and factory.
The world cries out for such:
he is needed, and needed badly --
-- the man who can carry a
message to Garcia.
Elbert Hubbard was a man of complexity, with ideas some of
which we adopt and others which we do not adopt.
Nevertheless, on its basic point, A Message to Garcia
became and remains an inspiration for our need to "carry the
pail," and to do the work by self-reliance. We "pull our
own weight" as Theodore Roosevelt put it.
It should be
noted that there
is a lost distinction in the risk and character of the
American Entrepreneur. Some people think that the
American Entrepreneur has the safety net of unemployment compensation
if the venture fails. Generally, that is incorrect. If a venture fails, the entrepreneur
goes bankrupt and does not qualify for unemployment
compensation. There is no social safety net
for the American Entrepreneur.
Moreover, on that point, some
employees think that they pay for their unemployment
compensation insurance from their own paycheck, such as
social security. Accordingly, some employees think
that they are "entitled" to unemployment
compensation, having paid for it. Again, generally, that is incorrect. It is the employer who pays
for the social benefit of unemployment compensation.
Yes, it is true that American Entrepreneurs
pay unemployment compensation for their employees,
and, yet, American Entrepreneurs are not
"entitled" to collect the benefit for themselves. If a
venture fails, the American Entrepreneur goes bankrupt and is
financially destroyed. And,
yet, we do not hear of the American Entrepreneur crying for
"entitlements." American Entrepreneurs are too busy carrying
Let us praise and thank the
American Entrepreneur. Every wage-earner, the American
Entrepreneur included, has a "boss"; the only distinction
is that, for the American Entrepreneur, it is more direct
to the ultimate customer who supplies the source of funds.
Everyone must carry the pail.
The American Entrepreneur is
the last bastion, the final protection, for American
capitalism. And, better, it is the healthy dynamic
created by the smaller American Entrepreneur, and, indeed, new
startup businesses with fresh untethered ideas -- and not
the evolved oligarchy of a few behemoth corporations -- that keeps The Entrepreneurial Spirit safe and secure
carry the pail while lying on our backs or sitting on our
buttocks. Hope, and pray if you do, that
the strength of the American Entrepreneur does not falter,
but continues to stand up strong and carry the pail for Lady
Liberty. For, if Lady Liberty should fall to her knee,
it is the American Entrepreneur who gives her that sip of
water from which she regains the strength to fulfill her
Gregg Zegarelli, Ed.