Letter #02: You can't control Jack.
If you only bring your core values with you when you’re in control, they’re not values.
Dear friends and colleagues,
Would you rather:
Win a war for your country?
Or have your name on an airport?
France opened an airport in Roissy in 1974 that is now the busiest in Europe. It also has more airlines and more destinations than any other airport worldwide.
So there’s a good chance that your only point of contact with the memory of General Charles de Gaulle (1890–1970) is because you landed in or passed through Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport.
I connected there on the way home from Senegal two years ago. It’s a great airport, and de Gaulle never set foot in it.
On the flight out of Paris, I observed this window behind the toilet:
Quick note: Edition #02 of Roberts’ Green Letter is free to all, which means all of our free subscribers will get this notification. Y’all did not get notified of these two member Editions, which I recommend you check out:
I can’t think of another plane I’ve been on that had daylighting for the toilet! If the aircraft loses power you can still find the flush button!
How many passengers pull the shade down for privacy?
If I chuckled a bit when I thought that, don’t blame me. Maybe five-percent of the population has paruresis (shy bladder syndrome) and can’t pee in public. It’s estimated to be the second-worst phobia.
If that’s you, please know there is help for it. I’m a recovered paruresic. When I stepped into the bathroom of my future classroom Kindergarten Orientation Day in 1983, the stench of cleaning chemicals over splashed 5-year-old pee knocked me back. I never went back into that bathroom for the whole year. Often I went home instead in pee-soaked corduroys.
You don’t get to control your own bladder indefinitely.
I still hate that smell. But for reasons I can’t recall I never had this problem after Kindergarten.
Another reason you might know De Gaulle is that you saw his name on Instagram. He’s known for saying “Les cimetières sont pleins d'hommes indispensables.”
Translated best as, “The graveyards are full of people the world could not do without.”
Hitler invaded France on May 10, 1940. By June 22 France’s military position was so bad that the prime minister signed peace with Germany. On July 10, the P.M. was made dictator of Vichy France by its own National Assembly. The Vichy regime, which was popular at first, reversed liberal policies and helped round up Jews.
Meanwhile in Britain, General de Gaulle helped found, and led France Libre (Free France) against the Vichy regime. This act is what is known today as “being on the right side of history.”
That came later. De Gaulle was court-martialed in exile by his own country, and on August 2, 1940, they sentenced him to death.
You don’t get to control whether other people want you around.
The Vichy prime minister was a sotto voce bully, if you know the type. The soft-spoken kind that people are “surprised” to find out abuses his underlings behind closed doors.
He’s the kind of person who goes after a political rival by installing a court-martial to produce a death sentence, then puffs up his image by saying he would personally ensure the sentence was never carried out.
I’m not honoring the prime minister’s name by mentioning it because what a jerk, right?
You don’t get to control when someone will be an asshole to you.
Yes, you can curse in the green “R.”
You don’t get to control when someone else needs to curse.
In the long run, I do believe that time heals all wounds, and wounds all heels (a.k.a. assholes), as I wrote last year on the blog.
De Gaulle’s an example. He proceeded to lead the French to help re-take their own country and then beat the Nazis. He helped things get back on track after the war and then retired.
You don’t get to control when and where you will be needed.
As I wrote in the welcome Letter, you can say things in retirement. It was then that De Gaulle wrote the following about the Vichy leader—alright, I’ll say his name—Pétain.
De Gaulle wrote that Pétain’s life was “successively banal, then glorious, then deplorable, but never mediocre.” He was spot-on. Pétain was a war hero, known as the “The Lion of Verdun” for his commanding victory in World War One. After WWII he was sentenced to death and imprisoned for his corruption.
Few people have been as key to France’s standing today than de Gaulle. Yet today most people know his name from an airport and a quote that, as it happens, he never said!
You don’t get to control how people will remember you.
Life doesn’t work that way. I bet you’ll remember me now for that pee story. (A fact of my life I also used in my first published short-story when I was 16.)
Speaking of avoidable crises, France in 1958 was being torn apart by its war to put down Algerian independence. They brought de Gaulle back out of his retirement with wife, Yvonne.
You don’t get to control when a loved one is called to be somewhere else.
De Gaulle then freed Algeria, which France never should have controlled to begin with, and offered independence to all French colonies (something the U.S. has never done).
You don’t get to control when someone else grants your freedom.
Then de Gaulle retired again. He knew where his priorities lay. While in office, Yvonne had tried to get Charles to ban mini-skirts. Unsuccessfully.
You don’t get to control what someone else wants to wear.
Yvonne was a conservative Catholic and said about her husband’s career, “The presidency is temporary—but the family is permanent.”
We might think the war was stressful but I wonder if it wasn’t the mini-skirt incident that led de Gaulle to want to spend more time with Yvonne.
They buried their daughter Anne together in 1948, age 20. Anne had Down’s syndrome.
You don’t get to control what your kids are like.
Charles, normally undemonstrative and stoic, would play with Anne—sing, dance, and pantomime.
I’ll bet he missed her.
The quote about indispensable men in the graveyard is sometimes attributed to Winston Churchill, lol. Churchill, Britain’s wartime Prime Minister got his own biopic in 2017.
You don’t get to control who plays you in your bio-pic.
The bio-pic means you’re more likely to know about Churchill today. Although, in a stain on his legacy it scores 49% on Rotten Tomatoes.
You don’t get to control your Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score.
I said “lol” above about people mixing up Churchill with de Gaulle with that quote because everyone in London during the war knew that Churchill hated de Gaulle.
Another two-faced asshole, Churchill called de Gaulle “a bitter foe of Britain” and tried to get him removed as leader of France Libre.
You don’t get to control how people talk about you when you’re not there.
Did you see the Christopher Nolan film Dunkirk (2017)? I didn’t even realize until doing my homework for this Letter how much it fucks de Gaulle’s France!
The traitor in the movie, left to drown, isn’t Hitler. It’s a French soldier who steals a dead Brit’s in hopes of being evacuated by the Brits.
They were on the same side! The Allied Powers evacuated 338,226 Allied soldiers in Dunkirk, including 100,000 French. After the closing credits of Dunkirk, Great Britain recycled about 97,000 of those French back to battlefields elsewhere in France. Within weeks they were captured or killed by Germany. Only 3,000 stayed with de Gaulle and France Libre.
You don’t get to control how many troops you’re given.
De Gaulle was also hated by America’s president, FDR. When the U.S. entered the war in 1941, France had already lost. Nazi-complicit Pétain ran it. While fighting to regain France from Germany, the U.S. also maintained formal relations with Pétain and Vichy France.
FDR wanted to use French colonies in North Africa to advance on Germany, as well as Saint Pierre and Miquelon, two islands off of Canada.
FDR wanted to work with Pétain on this, but de Gaulle, in exile, considered this illegitimate and forced FDR to talk to him instead. Hitler was de Gaulle’s ultimate enemy, but his stand against FDR buddying up with Pétain was principled. Asked “Is the enemy (Pétain) of my enemy (Hitler) my friend?” de Gaulle did a character check and answered, “No.”
You don’t get to control when your values will be tested.
If you only bring your core values with you when you’re in control, they’re not values.
Well before D-Day, De Gaulle sent his France Libre troops by boat and submarine to take Pierre and Miquelon from Vichy France. I love his sass.
Waiting in the Bush Airport in Houston Sunday, my son and Alison and I opened a few Pokémon booster packs. He pointed to one in my hand and named it. He had seen it in his friends’ collection in school. “That’s how I sometimes think of you, Looit.” (My son calls me Looit, a name he made up at 2.)
I traded it to him.
I started noticing last year my son laughing to Alison every now and then, “That’s so Looit.”
Since then I’ve been building this picture in my mind of how he thinks of me.
My son loves Pokémon so I’m blushing now with love that we have this synergy.
But also laughing, because…
You don’t get to control how people think of you.
Pokémon started in 1996, the year I graduated high school. It’s since become the highest-grossing media franchise ever. (Hello Kitty and Mickey Mouse are #2 and #3.)
Can I be honest? Because we share this “safe space” under our Roberts’ Green Letter ground rules, I will.
I missed out on Pokémon as a kid. I was always more into books than toys. I looked down on Pokémon. Now I laugh about it and trade cards with my son.
You don’t get to control what people enjoy doing with you.
I didn’t mean to write so much about Charles de Gaulle. I wrote this essay starting with the quote. I worked out from there. Nowadays I have a favorite Pokémon artist. (Tomokazu Komiya. Who’s yours?)
You don’t get to control what fascinates you.
What can’t you get your mind off? Follow it, learn from it.
Another thing I’m trying to learn from today is my 10-year-old son’s paracosms, or imaginary worlds. I use the word “imaginary” here so you have an idea of what I’m talking about. To him and me, they are not imaginary. But more on that another time. I mention it because if you as a child, or your children, have had paracosms, I’d love to learn from you about it. Please contact me!
You don’t get to control whether they’ll email you back.
When you start an organization or launch a product, you are well-served by listening to what your customers tell you about yourself. Well-known recent examples are YouTube’s founding as a dating site, and Twitter’s as a podcast-sharing platform.
What is Roberts’ Green Letter going to become?
Here’s an opportunity to vote with your feet.
In Issue #00: Hold space for zero, I wrote about what the Living Building Challenge and LEED can learn from their customers, if they would listen.
In a Part Two of that, Issue #01: How blank space can't be controlled, I counseled both programs on how they could do more by listening to their core audience and embracing a counterintuitive strategy—not scaling up.
Both Letters are behind the member paywall. Why?
I pay my son to empty our dishwasher. So he has a Pokémon budget.
But I’m also excited to buy some new booster packs…
Seriously, though, I’m trying to be useful and I want to keep doing this.
We have one paid membership today—welcome Michelle! If 100 or more of you join, that would be a big deal. Here’s the link again: Tell Tristan to keep going with the kind of analysis shown here.
Here’s a recap.
I put them into “I” statements. I invite you to read each one aloud, as I just did to myself, and pause after each. And then, what’s the next thought?
It’s hard to give up control, isn’t it? But the magical thing is that letting go of what you can’t do opens you up more to what you can do. Try it:
I don’t get to control my own bladder indefinitely.
I don’t get to control whether other people want me around.
I don’t get to control when someone will be an asshole to me.
I don’t get to control when and where I will be needed.
I don’t get to control how people will remember me.
I don’t get to control when a loved one is called to be somewhere else.
I don’t get to control when someone else grants my freedom.
I don’t get to control what someone else wants to wear.
I don’t get to control what my kids are like.
I don’t get to control who plays me in my bio-pic.
I don’t get to control my Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score.
I don’t get to control how people talk about me when I’m not here.
I don’t get to control how many troops I’m given.
I don’t get to control when my values will be tested.
I don’t get to control how people think of me.
I don’t get to control what people enjoy doing with me.
I don’t get to control what fascinates me.
I don’t get to control whether they’ll call/email/message me back.
I do get to control over how I show up.
And by the way, I can be an asshole. I’ve been very clear about that, and why, in all my blogging at This Spot on Earth. Your “mistakes” might be the most perfect thing about you. If you’ve been an asshole at any point, I’m willing to give you five minutes anytime if you want to share about what you’ve learned.
I wrote here what Roberts’ Green Letter is all about. There’s a seven-day free trial as well as monthly and annual options. Please try one.
Did you hear about the thief in Paris who stole the three Impressionist paintings from the Louvre?
The police caught him just two blocks away when his van ran out of gas.
The detectives grilled him. “How could a criminal mastermind ingenious enough to steal three of the world’s most valuable paintings make such an obvious error? Who’s really behind this?”
“Zut alors,” the thief says. “It’s only me. Monsieur, the getaway car is the reason I stole the paintings. I had no Monet to buy Degas to make the Van Gogh.”
And you thought I wouldn’t have de Gaulle to pun in Roberts’ Green Letter! I’m telling you, readers, I’ve got nothing Toulouse.
Warm regards, friends –
Quill Nook Farm
P.S. See you next issue! In the meantime, please:
Let me know your feedback in the comments below, or email me at email@example.com.
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P.P.S. Ah, a post-post-script. The pen pal’s version of the after-credits scene. Stick around for the good stuff, Letter Members!
In the 1920s, the senior General Pétain sought out the young de Gaulle, then a student in war college.
De Gaulle had been criticized by teachers for “excessive self-confidence.” He came to Pétain’s attention for not being afraid to question status quo doctrine. Pétain took advantage of his seniority to bump up de Gaulle’s grade. Then hired him as his ghostwriter.
But De Gaulle didn’t like Pétain’s decisions. Pétain took personal command in the Rif War in 1925. He led 150 airplanes and supported 123,000 well-armed Europeans in putting down 12,000 North Africa tribal warriors.
De Gaulle later said, “Marshal Pétain was a great man. He died in 1925, but he did not know it."
France doesn’t get to control Africa, and never should have tried. Buh-bye assholes.