On February 22, 1899, the publisher of a small-town newspaper was discussing with a friend who the real hero of the Spanish-American war was. He wrote down his thoughts in an hour and put them in a leftover spot in his newspaper. Soon orders came for more copies, and eventually forty million reprints of that article were distributed around the world. This is a powerful testimony to the worldwide recognition of the importance of diligence.
“When war broke out between Spain and the United States, it was very necessary to communicate quickly with the leader of the insurgence. Garcia was somewhere in the mountain vastness of Cuba – no one knew where. No mail or telegraph message could reach him. The President must secure his cooperation, and quickly. What to do!
“Someone said to the President, ‘There is a fellow by the name of Rowan. He will find Garcia for you, if anybody can.’ Rowan was sent for and given a letter to be delivered to Garcia.
“How the ‘fellow by the name of Rowan’ took the letter, sealed it up in an oilskin pouch, strapped it over his heart, in four days landed by night off the coast of Cuba from an open boat, disappeared into the jungle, and in three weeks came out on the other side of the island, having traversed a hostile country on foot and delivered his letter to Garcia – are things I have no special desire now to tell in detail.
“The point I wish to make is this: McKinley gave Rowan a letter to be delivered to Garcia; Rowan took the letter and did not ask, ‘Where is he at?’ There is a man whose form should be cast in 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, but a stiffening of the vertebrae which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, to concentrate their energies: do the thing – ‘carry the message to Garcia.’
“General Garcia is dead now, but there are other ‘Garcias.’ No man who has endeavored to carry out an enterprise in which many hands are needed has not been appalled by the inability or unwillingness of workers to concentrate on a task and do it.
“Slipshod assistance, foolish inattention, dowdy indifference, and halfhearted work seem to be the rule. 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 Correggio.’
“Will the clerk quietly say, ‘Yes, sir,’ and go do the task? He will not. He will look at you out of a fishy eye and ask one or more of the following questions:
“‘Who was he?’ ‘Which encyclopedia?’ ‘Was I hired for this?’ ‘Don’t you mean Bismark?’ ‘What’s the matter with Charlie doing it?’ ‘Is there any hurry?’ ‘Should I bring the book and let you look it up?’ ‘What do you want to know for?’
“After you answer his questions and explain how to find the information and why you want it, the clerk will no doubt go off and get one of the other clerks to help him try to find ‘Garcia’ – and then come back and tell you there’s no such man.
“This incapacity for independent action, this moral stupidity, this infirmity of the will, this unwillingness to cheerfully catch hold and lift – these are the things that drive employers to despair.
“We have recently been hearing much maudlin sympathy expressed for the ‘downtrodden denizens of the sweat shop’ and the ‘homeless wanderers in search of honest employment’ and often with it all go many hard words for the men in power.
“Nothing is said about the employer who grows old before his time in a vain attempt to get frowzy ne’er-do-wells to do intelligent work, and his long, patient striving after ‘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.
“I know one man who has not the ability to manage a business of his own and yet who is absolutely worthless to anyone else because he constantly carries with him the suspicion that his employer is oppressing or intending to oppress him. He cannot give orders, and he will not receive them. Should a message be given him to take to Garcia? Tonight, this man walks the streets looking for work. No one who knows him dares hire him.
“In our pitying, let us drop a tear or two for the men who are striving to carry on a great enterprise, whose working hours are not limited by the whistle, whose hair is fast turning white through the struggle to hold in line indifference and the heartless ingratitude which, but for their enterprise, would be both hungry and homeless.
“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 to Garcia, quietly takes it without asking any idiotic questions and delivers it.
“The world cries out for such. He is needed, and needed badly – the man who can carry a letter to Garcia.”
Condensed and adapted from “A Letter to Garcia” by Elherd Hubbard