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Leadership in an Age of Wolves: Jeff and Papa Play Cribbage

This lesson is a part of an audio course Leadership in an Age of Wolves by Scott F. Paradis

Welcome to our third session of Leadership in an Age of Wolves.

Let's think about where we are for a moment.

Jeff was disturbed by his friend Jose's observation or assertion, really, that the world operates in accordance with two dictates: might makes right, which results in, the many serving the few.

Though the truth of Jose's statements was undeniable, Jeff didn't want to believe that was the way things had to be. People can find a better way and lead other people to a better way.

Most often, however, people in positions of authority rely on power to get what they want – that's not leadership.

Upon returning home for winter break, Jeff found family gatherings and celebrations reassuring – at odds from that ‘might makes right' assertion. Jeff thought to himself, ‘It can't be all about power.'

Listening to a preacher's sermon, Jeff found more evidence that people have other options – some bad, but much better. People get to choose. They don't have to dominate others to get what they want.

It comes down to personal choice and personal responsibility.

But standing alone is never an easy thing to do.

Now, what's Jeff up to?

At four o'clock that Sunday afternoon Jeff visited Papa for the resumption of their long-standing and much-cherished cribbage match. Madeleine, Papa's Maltese mix, greeted Jeff at the door.

Walking into Papa's apartment was like stepping back in time, and Jeff always enjoyed the journey.

Papa even had an old-fashioned, vintage 1960s turntable and vinyl record collection. Since vinyl was making a comeback, Papa insisted he was avant-garde, on the cutting edge when it came to music.

Many an afternoon Jeff spent with Papa playing cribbage, discussing deep and far-reaching philosophical issues and solving life's not so far-reaching but at the time seemingly intractable problems, usually involving school challenges or girls.

Papa was wise in ways Jeff never experienced with anyone else.

Papa's father had been a language teacher who loved learning and would tell his young son, "Understanding the language, the words, the context, and the meaning, is ninety percent of the battle."

That love of learning, of trying to see with a broad view and with understanding, continued through the generations.

Though he possessed little formal education, Papa was more knowledgeable than most. He was a rock, embodying standards and principled convictions keeping civility alive in an increasingly uncivil world.

Papa had a fire burning in the fireplace. He had already set out the cards, the cribbage board, and cheese and crackers; he poured two glasses of fine wine.

Cribbage is a card game where players earn points by grouping various combinations of cards and achieving predetermined point values. The score is kept by advancing pegs along with a cribbage board. Playing as frequently as they did, cards aged, were discarded, and replaced, but Jeff and Papa's matches always were scored on Papa's antique board. That board was one of Papa's most prized possessions.

As a young boy in France, Papa experienced heartache and loss. In 1940, the Nazis invaded then occupied France. Papa's younger sister, Elise, was born in 1941, but barely survived three years. Months after Elise's death, Papa's father died helping the Allies during the D-Day invasion. Papa's mother survived the war but struggled with illness – really a broken heart – in that dry summer of 1945. Relatives put Papa on a transport vessel to live "temporarily" with an aunt and uncle in Canada. In 1946 Papa's mother died, and he eventually moved with his fledgling family to Lorain.

As they played cribbage, Papa and Jeff conversed on a wide variety of topics, and soon Papa took one game to none lead.

As the second, and potentially deciding, the game began, Papa asked about José and Jeff's other classmates. Jeff surfaced José declarations: Might Makes Right, and the Many Serve the Few.

Jeff explained what his group of friends had discussed Friday night. And the concern: it seems like young people are being set up; forced into a box, and shackled with a ball and chain.

The conversation was getting interesting.

Papa asked Jeff to elaborate.

Jeff described how José had talked about the ends justifying the means and suggesting doing what's right doesn't matter. He summarized the world as shaped and dominated by power. And the masses don't have any, which seemed both obvious and troubling.

Papa dug deeper, and Jeff continued explaining; people have been struggling for hundreds of years in this country for freedom and equality; and wondering: are they struggling in vain?

Jeff went on to explain that while we may progress, we continue to take fall back. The system ensures a select few get what they want as the masses continue to struggle.

Papa's tone turned solemn, "I think it's time to tell you a story my father told me a long, long time ago.

"My father and I were tending sheep one evening in the Normandy. I was eight years old. We had been through a lot. The year was 1944. The Nazis were occupying France. My family and our community had endured grave pain and great loss. Times were hard. A shadow had been hanging over my family and community."

"I asked my father, ‘Is life always going to be like this?'

"Not sure of what I meant, he asked me to go on.

"I went on to explain about the Nazi soldiers pushing people around, even beating and killing some; the curfews, the pulled window shades, and quiet whisperings. This was all I knew, but not what I was taught life could be.

"I asked my father, ‘Why is there so much fear?'

"My father looked at me and said, ‘Nicolas," – Papa's name was Nicolas – "Nicolas, I need to tell you a story. It's a story of creation. An aspect of the creation story you are not familiar with; a detail about creation I think it's time I shared.'

"The Story of Sheep, Herders, and Wolves"

We'll pick up with that story in lesson four.

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Written by

Scott F. Paradis