If you know much about William Tecumseh Sherman, you’re probably unable to think of him as the soft and squishy type. In fact, at least based on his wartime actions and his writings, Sherman was cantankerous, honest to a fault (even when it was uncomfortable), stoic to the point of hardly showing any emotion at all, and merciless. His “March to the Sea” is perhaps one of the better known military campaigns in all of US history, not only for the pragmatic genius behind it but also because of the amount of damage he inflicted on the South in such a short period of time.
In his writings and in the writings about him, I can think of only two people to whom Sherman showed respect and affection. One was Ulysses S. Grant, whom Sherman profoundly respected. The other was a woman named Mary Ann Bickerdyke, who served Sherman’s troops for four years by feeding them, finding food for them, and caring for them. Her ability to organize and execute plans to keep up the care of her men inspired Sherman to say, “She ranks me.”
Now that’s quite a statement. Sherman, a general, a man in the 19th century, a man who was having increasing amounts of success, points to a woman and says, “She ranks me.” It was oddly humble. It was oddly favorable. Coming from Sherman, in fact, it was just plain odd. But this tells you how amazing “Mother” Bickerdyke must have truly been.
When you reach a point of success, it’s important to acknowledge other people who have done things you feel are more extraordinary. Doing this helps keep your feet firmly planted and it helps prevent your head from becoming too big. Doing this reminds you that you are not the greatest gift to creation now. Doing this reminds you that other people may be traveling paths that are more fraught with danger than yours. Doing this reminds you that other people might be working more towards a greater good than you are. Doing this gives you an outside perspective on your own success. It gives you context.
Sherman is known in our history books as an extraordinary messenger of death and destruction. Mary Ann Bickerdyke is known as a bringer of care and compassion. Can you weigh which kind of success is better remembered?
When I have some sort of social media success, I think of women like Molly Cantrell-Kraig, Angela Daffron, and Jennifer Windrum, who are using social media for social good. When I do a good deed, I think about people like Steve Woodruff, who travels to Haiti to help those in need (far more than anything I’ve ever done). These people rank me.
Who might you think of as people who “rank” you? It doesn’t have to be a comparative thing. It is more a perspective thing. Who would you strive to be, even at a moment of your greatest success? Why do they rank you? And would you try to travel that path you admire or would you rather let them shine on alone?
I’m interested to hear your thoughts!
Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/elycefeliz/6339323665 via Creative Commons