Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Old Soldiers

Today I had a lovely breakfast with an old friend and companion. We worked well together for almost ten years before he decided to leave our corporation and find his own dream. He told me that I should have left years ago, that the existing situation was not big enough for the breadth of my restless vision, that there were still virtually unbounded opportunities in other areas.

I have always admired this friend of mine. I was once his reporting officer, but I long-ago realised that he would always be a greater success than I in the murky world in which we live. I remember with wry humour the day I wondered if I should hive off some of my own salary to grant him a better bonus. Some people were pretty unhappy that I should suggest such a thing. But I said, "He did the work, not I; it is not right that a useful man should go unrewarded just because he reports to me."

Months later, he and all those in similar situations got a raise. But the whole episode, and many other episodes since, have convinced me about one particular thing. It came to mind over breakfast.

There are at least three kinds of old soldiers in the area of conflict in which we serve. The first kind continues to be of use, is loyal in all things, may be eventually discarded as fading powers are eclipsed by rising stars. The second type has been of use, continues to fight with the tactics and strategies of the last war, extols conservatism so that the last war may continue. The third type is a fully competent soldier who realises that his forte is to be a general, and changes theatres in order to use his gift. (In some countries there is a fourth type who knows he will be a general no matter what and is in a hurry to become one, becomes one, and then is made CEO of a different kind of endeavour altogether.)

I don't know if I clearly fit into any of these categories. Categories, in the end, are only as good as the context in which they arise – and sometimes not even then. But old soldiers never really die; their memories live on for good or ill after them.

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