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September 1, 2013

A New Birth of Freedom

I have been thinking lately about what a blessing it can be to rededicate oneself to those values that make life honorable, valuable and worth cherishing. When we pay attention, we are granted the opportunity to understand anew those things that are truly important, such as kindness, compassion, reconciliation and coming together around a common purpose.

This year we observe the 150th anniversary of Gettysburg, the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, a conflict that threatened to permanently tear apart this great nation. We also observe the 150th anniversary of perhaps the most impressive speech in our history. In fewer than 300 words, Abraham Lincoln showed why so many consider him our greatest president. Lincoln eloquently called a wounded nation to unity, reconciliation and a rededication to the basic principles upon which this country was founded.

Business leaders often say an important inspiration for them is The Art of War by Sun Tzu, an ancient guide for achieving total victory over one’s adversaries. These days a great many companies spread along the value chain of manufacturing subscribe to an I-win-you-lose way of doing business.

At a time of peril for the nation, Lincoln called for a different path. Allow me to step aside and revisit “The Gettysburg Address”:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

This of course was a stunning speech honoring soldiers, dedicating a national cemetery, and calling for bitter adversaries to recognize that their higher calling is to perceive and preserve a common purpose. But I would suggest that, on a far more humble scale, these healing words may be a profound guide for all of us in life and in business.

Lincoln’s speech is a powerful reminder that, even in circumstances that seem irredeemably adversarial, there is room for conciliation, for working together toward a greater purpose. Within the business and manufacturing communities, we may tend to focus on our differences at the expense of those things that can bring us together. We may become accustomed to seeing those up and down the manufacturing supply chain as adversaries. Of course we dedicate ourselves to dealing with our customers well and honestly. Do we feel the same way about our suppliers and our subcontractors?

At this time in our history, tremendous value for all of us can be derived from a unified manufacturing community and the metals supply chain that serves it. If we put aside our policy and business differences and concentrate on common goals, we can be more successful in Washington, in our communities and in our lives than we can imagine.

Lincoln was dedicated to preserving a great nation. We can be equally dedicated to unity, collaboration and the unfinished work in our industries that we still must do to prosper together.