When asked by President McKinley to carry a letter to a General Garcia in the wilds of the Cuban jungle, an otherwise-unknown fellow named Rowan asked no questions, made the journey, and delivered the letter—a task which any average person might have written off as impossible. In this post, I diverge briefly from my political soliloquies to highlight a very short book, written over a hundred years ago, whose message has only grown more significant over time. Edwin Hubbard’s piece, Message to Garcia, (which you can read here) illustrates the importance of instilling in young people “a stiffening of the vertebrae which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, concentrate their energies; do the thing.” He points out the stark contrast between individuals who are lazy, indifferent, and incompetent, and those who are willing to exert effort, act independently, and complete tasks with excellence. My friends, Hubbard’s message convicted me, and if you receive it with an open mind and an honest reflection on your own life and work, it may have the same effect upon you.
The point of Message to Garcia is undoubtedly a vital one for every generation to grasp, but I would maintain that it is more crucial now than ever. Young people, especially in America, have become terribly naïve and astoundingly disinterested in the pivotal questions that have historically shaped our nation and our world. We arrogantly refuse to take responsibility for our actions, feel entitled to anything and everything that pleases us, and foolishly disregard the instruction and life experience of older generations. We dismiss skills such as basic mathematics, grammar, vocabulary, and knowledge of history as unimportant in modern society. Perhaps most startling is the fact that we have abandoned genuine, face-to-face communication and relationship in favor of 140-character fragments. It is frightening to realize that soon, millennials will be filling all of the leadership roles in churches, communities, schools, and businesses across America, and will be governing this nation and directing the future of humanity on earth.
Perhaps this is too harsh an indictment of millennials; after all, I am one myself, and I certainly hope that a casual observer would not think so badly of me. However, it is clear to anyone whose eyes and mind are open to the truth that millennials need a wake-up call such as is delivered in Message to Garcia. We need to begin to prove our independence and exceed the low expectations we have put on ourselves. As Hubbard writes, if we deliver the figurative message to Garcia without asking silly questions, begging for help or an easier task, or abandoning the assignment altogether, we will be sought after as employees, managers, and CEOs, and we will find that we are needed so badly that our wages keep increasing.
Before someone can become a leader of any sort, he must make himself one of those priceless individuals who can “carry a message to Garcia.” By taking initiative and striving for honor and excellence, he earns the trust and respect of his superiors and his peers, and eventually finds that people begin to look to him for advice and entrust him with greater responsibility. This is the calling Hubbard brings for millennials: step it up and strive to do great things, equip yourself to lead with integrity, do the thing even if it’s uncomfortable or un-fun.
On the other hand, those who have achieved the status of “leader” in a given setting may find themselves in one of two positions. They may be encouraging and training those who have demonstrated potential as figurative letter-bearers, or weeding out those who put forth, in Hubbard’s words, “Slipshod assistance, foolish inattention, dowdy indifference, and half-hearted work.” In all likelihood, an excellent leader will do some of both. Here I implore the older generations: extend grace to us as we struggle to find our place in the world, but please do not let us slide by with less than you were encouraged to do as young adults. Spur us on so that we become capable of taking the reins of leadership in the next few decades.
As a closing thought, there is one aspect that Hubbard does not address. As Christians, we have a responsibility to break the cycle of apathy, entitlement, sloppily-written papers, and half-completed tasks—a sacred responsibility to be in the world but not of it. In 1 Peter 3:15, believers are instructed to prepare ourselves “to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” People are supposed to ask the reason for our hope, which implies that there should be something obviously different about us before we ever try to use words to deliver the Gospel. When we equip ourselves with competence, character, and consistency—when we prove ourselves capable of not only basic tasks but of reliably finishing any project with excellence and integrity—we are living witnesses to the hope we have in Christ. When we carry a message to Garcia, we carry Christ’s message to the world.