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An Old Fashioned Set of Values That Are Timeless

Presentation to the John Ben Shepperd Forum

House Chamber, Texas House of Representatives

February 21, 2015

By: Tieman H. Dippel, Jr.

As we gather today in this rather august setting of the House Chamber, there is a sense of seriousness not found in many locations because our surroundings give the trappings of power and a sense that history is formed here. It is not unlike the Capitol in Washington, D.C., but I have always appreciated in the gallery entering those chambers there is a clock with a statue of the Greek Muse and Goddess of History, Clio. It is a thoughtful sculpture to those who understand it, for those who pass under her threshold going about their daily legislative actions tend to look at themselves through the scope of the current time. The issues are those that are the focus of the moment in the twenty-four news cycle. But Clio looks at them differently and judges by the flow of history. As she writes the history of this time in a much more distant future, there is often a different perspective of what were the most important items of the moment. That is what John Ben Shepperd understood and his brand of leadership looked not at the bottom up issues that faded with time, but with a great marching path of historical values that may seem old fashioned, and on occasion politically incorrect in the modern day, but were timeless. They focused on considerations such as the Golden Rule, the sanctity of conscience, and the common good, for those avoided moral hazard in public policy and gave trust to government and its leaders. His generation understood the importance of the people, and service to them.


Because of the ambiance of this Chamber, it is looked to be a place of power that is the point of the pyramid of society in determining, at least at a state level, what rules will guide us. In the reality of life, that is a perception not unlike when we look at the evening sky and see the moon and the stars. Our first impression is two dimensional by which it is much like a painting. If we move to a higher level of thought, we realize that the moon is instead round and the stars are an infinitesimal space. It is a different way of thinking about an appearance.

If we take a similar vision of this change of dimension, we would realize that what happens in this chamber may be a final action, but in a democracy, or even in totalitarian regimes where there is significant worry of revolution for the wrong actions, it is the people that ultimately by their actions or inactions determine destiny. Giovanni Medici gave that advice to his family that began their dynasty and ruled Florence for centuries while even Niccolo Machiavelli wrote “The Prince” to seek their favor. How we think about all of these issues makes a huge difference to truly understanding power and influence. There is a book that I would commend to you all, a short book called “The Law” written by Frederic Bastiat in the 1850’s. It is extremely helpful in understanding concepts like liberty and dignity because it points out clearly that it is not the law that creates the culture, but the culture that creates the law.

And correspondingly, the absence of a strong culture requires much more law and regulation. Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America similarly shows that the power of America is in its people and comes from their unique nature of non-profit and civic organizations, family interaction, and the understanding of civic obligations. The comment that America is great because America is good is often attributed to him. If America ceases to be good, it will cease to be great. Leadership is key to creating and defining that culture, and with modern technology imparting the thought process, understanding these leadership challenges and principles and adjusting them is essential.

In this Chamber, we see the epitome of political power. However, every representative sitting where you sit probably, if sophisticated, has access to consultants, pollsters, advisors, and key staff. All are sensitive to the feelings back home, or if not, they are usually replaced. These sensitivities make the power here subject to the influences of the three great powers that are present in the shadows of this room which are economics, politics, and culture. Every political issue is in part moral and part economic. In some cases the percentage varies dramatically, but they are base considerations. Politics and economics are driven by interests. Culture, which is an embodiment of the sense of morality, is set by values. Today, economics has too often become described as the interests of rich versus poor, politics the right versus the left on the size and function of government. But culture is described by values which are different. In its base form it is the choice between conscience (a concern for others, family, and the future) versus convenience (a concern for self and now). It is the culture that often divides the red versus the blue states. It is the culture that shapes how we think about problems in our sense of fairness. Economic fairness is often looked at politically with absolute equality, economic fairness is looked often proportionally by who contributes the most to the success of an endeavor which gives actions value, and culturally fairness is often a balance of the individual against the needs of society. The French Revolution which was described well by Edmund Burke, looked at three great principles – equality of the individual, fraternity of the group, and liberty which was the balance between the two. It is that balance that is the ultimate issue often that is in the shadow of this Chamber. Government often represents the group solution, private markets and popular responsibility the alternative private solution. How we think about that is critically important, and that we think about it is even more so.


I think it is important to explain how decades ago when this Forum first began, society looked more closely at many of these values. The person who had often understood many of these principles the best for the preceding forty years was General John Ben Shepperd, the namesake of this Institute and Forum. I had the privilege of having John Ben as mentor. He and my Father were very similar and were close friends. They served in World War II together in Battle Creek Michigan, and upon my Father’s death, John Ben reached out to me. He has served as Secretary of State and Attorney General, but that was not the legacy for which many people came together to honor him. He was a person who looked at how society could constantly be improved without losing its values and gained wisdom. He saw Texas as being a “Third Coast of Thought”, which eventually came forth in the Texas Lyceum, where he served as Co-Chairman of the Advisory Committee. He wanted to bring more people together and he understood how institutions were necessary to accomplish that. No one formed more organizations or brought more people together than John Ben in that era. Whether it was the Historical Commission for revitalization, or the Arts and Humanities Commission for culture, economic development, libraries or education, he was at the forefront. Institutions brought diverse groups together and promoted unity through common interest.

He helped change Texas’ perception of politics because of his relationships with Dwight Eisenhower and Allan Shivers. Ideas like school funding through state ownership of the Tidelands mattered more than partisanship. What he believed more than anything else was the responsibility of the individual to be a leader and statesman. It should not be your goal to sit and wait to have other people tell you what to do. Liberty is about learning and leading. What is most important is that you take concepts you learn home and take action on them. You will hear often in the approaches today of the “take it home concept” which means changing your community. Successful engagement requires experience and confidence, and it is a trait that is often natural, but has to be honed and a great part of that is learning how to think properly to gain trust to unify people. To do that he knew you needed a vision of the preferred future and an organizing decision principle to get there. To him that principle came from character which was the core of responsibility, which is the essence of conscience.

Key to John Ben’s beliefs was that one person could make a difference. He believed that it is less who you know that gets you ahead in life, but that it is what you know, coupled with delivering the goods which brings success. He understood the importance of combined efforts and that required the inspiration and teaching of others who were trained to take their place. He appreciated humility, but more than anything else focused on responsibility. He often emphasized a code that: Leaders are willing to pay their dues to society because they realize that ….

To be born free is an accident.
To live free is a responsibility.
To die free is an obligation.

These were the values of that former generation of which I spoke.


John Ben could best be described as a catalyst that often was present in the shadows of history never fully getting credit for all that he did but having very significant impact. He was a catalyst of ideas. Once you have value based leadership in a culture, it becomes particularly important for leaders to learn how to think about issues. Knowledge is important but wisdom is better. There are two unique things often affecting leadership that are distinct. One is temperament and the other is intelligence. In temperament it is how you are able to coordinate with people and bring out the best from a variety of advisors, it also sets your level of acceptance of risk. Intelligence is often your ability to look at how to think about a situation at the highest level possible. How you think about something determines what you think about it, and one of the unique things that John Ben often provided was this catalytic approach of bringing a variety of people together but giving them a vision for the future and helping inspire the character to get them to accomplish something. Many times in politics today it is solely a transactional issue. You do this for me and I will do that for you. But great change comes from transformation and that is bringing a number of people online to a common vision. They may not have to benefit from each other if they see a benefit in the ultimate goal of the combination. This is the essence of leadership. It is often the core of how transformative institutions are formed.


Intelligence is also about thinking about things at different levels. Let me take the old example of the man driving a two-seater sports car by a bus stop. A friend hailed him and explained the bus was extremely late and that the three people had been waiting a long time. His friend, to whom he owed much for past help desperately needed to get to a business meeting. However, there was an older woman next to him who was very ill and desperately needed to get to a hospital. Next to her sat the most beautiful woman he had seen, and he knew would be the love of his life. He had to make a decision since he had only one open seat in the car as to who would be helped and how. If you think about the issue from the moral question, he should immediately take the older woman to the hospital. If you think about the issue from the sense of obligation, he owed the ride to his old friend. If you thought about it just from self-interest, he would certainly help the future love of his life. How you think about the situation thus often gives choices, broadening the options in the situation by thinking in a different manner gives a different alternative. He can loan his friend his car on the condition that he takes the older lady to the hospital on the way to his meeting, and wait for what he hopes is a long time, with the future love of his life. Choices are often not between good and evil, but competing goods.


This morning, I would like to set the stage for many of the additional things you will hear at this conference with a framework for connecting them. We will hear presentations on critical issues from economics, education, the military, terrorism, marketing, and a host of others that are timely. They are the immediate bottom up issues of today, but to organize and coordinate them into action we need to understand the forces of society and the powers that create it. The knowledge we gain in each meeting has to be organized to provide wisdom.

Each of us in our daily lives faces immediate issues that we have to deal with to survive be it in our business, social life, or family. It is hard to look out for five years or further and take a top down perspective of this is where I want to be, or this is where an organization ought to be. Having a future vision often requires an organizing principle and core values to take all of the facts and choices and to put it in perspective. To do that, you need to think through the difference between change and the status quo. When my Father took me rabbit hunting in my youth, he often would take me to a place called “the old cutoff” where the river had bypassed a section. He noted that the appearance of the river was about the same in the banks and changed very little overnight but the water that was moving through was gone and headed toward the ocean. The “river cutoff” was an example of where bigger change had taken place somewhere in the past so it can occur quickly, but most things in life are fast changing or are very slow to evolve and it becomes very important to understand the distinctions. There is cyclical change and structural change and you need to appreciate the difference. Interests often change more quickly than values. If you look at a triangle and have on one side “change” and on the other side “the status quo” you will often find the technology and education as well as the natural human spirit to change to the times creates pressure. On the alternative you have the status quo of the economics, politics, and culture of the past. Often its result is that the powers of history brought forward through culture. These two are in constant friction and are often balanced on an individual and a group basis by what I would call personal dignity. Each person has a sense of how he sees change versus the status quo. If the circumstance is one that he dramatically needs change then you have a revolution, or you have an aggressive election. If he is satisfied with the status quo and the change is not demanding, then change tends to remain weak. This control of life or personal dignity is a very key consideration because it provides the perspective that a person has of society his satisfaction with it. Often it is that perception that sets how he looks at the information he gets and how he analyzes that data. If he sees it from the perspective of Fox News, he would not necessarily give much credence to information given by MSNBC which would look at a circumstance differently, or vice versa. There is a predetermination in that individual dignity by which he accepts what he sees in a circumstance as proof that he is correct. There is a natural desire to be right and that is an extremely powerful influence so how you think about issues is truly critical. Your organizing principle and perspective need to be honed to be accurate. Neils Bohr, the great physicist noted that every man’s mind is a model of the world based on his knowledge and experience, if it can be expanded by adding the wisdom of others in a greater mastermind; it improves the accuracy of the model to closer to reality.

If you look at this first triangle of change, you can build another set of triangles around it that affect personal dignity. The three great powers of economics, politics and culture all blend into that dignity. Some cultures such as Oriental ones, particularly those that may have a more Confucian basis, look to the harmony of society as being a critical organizing principle through recognition of obligation. They look at the society much more like a large set of condominiums where the government may be the manager that provides the services, and they may be more tolerant of problems. In the West, we are much more like suburbs where each of us had an individual house that we feel is the center of the world from our perspective, and we see government action as intrusion. Different cultures create different perspectives. So economic, political and cultural issues all intermix in making that perspective and how we think about the combination has a huge impact on how we view our satisfaction.

Once we recognize the forces and power of the first two triangles, we need to define the way we go about our thought process. A strong sense of analytics of how to break issues into different parts, decomposition, is important to understanding it. The second issue of prioritization or measurement to get the most significant issues put in the right statutes is necessary. And an understanding of trends makes it dynamic rather than static because if we are going to look at the future and the impact on our children, we have to look at the effects over time, not just currently. Debt for example is often really deferred taxes. These three approaches could be called the functions of thought and form a third triangle.

But the fourth and most important triangle is composed of the three cultures that have a tremendous impact on society because they determine ultimately the decisions points or organizing principle by which we predetermine many of those things that we have just discussed. The first great culture is that of the “Rule of Law”. It is what we all decide that we will apply to society as a base minimum. These are the enforceable rules that society demands. The second culture is a culture of obligation or morality. It is best described by courtesy. It is the unenforceable law. It is what I do for you with the expectation that you will do the same for me. It is the common rule of civility that any society would automatically have as its cultural strength which limits the size of what its strict rule of law must be. If people behave morally, then often the law doesn’t have to expand control in areas that peer pressure sets such standards. The third culture is that of compassion. It is a culture in which I do things for you not expecting anything in return. I set my own standards for my values and character by my actions. This most often is the culture of the great religions and philosophies by which self is diminished as you learn to care for others and refine your perspective of the purpose of your life. It is what brings and adds responsibility and character. The religions may deal with it in different ways – Confucius looked to the obligations of the past, Buddha to the alleviation of suffering in the present, Christ and Mohammed with the view to the future. But all taught the diminishment of self. Responsibility and character are strong in this third culture. But today as we diminish the power of that culture of caring for others and leave more not to ourselves, but to the government. We not only weaken our third culture, we diminish our second culture – responsibility, and we place increasing pressures on the Rule of Law by adding regulations upon regulations and governmental decisions upon governmental decisions. We have a society in which we lose the moral imperative and gain regulatory compliance. As Marcus Aurelius noted, “A man should be upright, not be kept upright.” Yet our society increasingly moves to the latter rather than the former. It is the failure to accept responsibility and thus a lack of moral leadership that changes the culture. If you do not have character, your organizing principle is convenience and changes how you look at issues and act on them.

This was the gradual change in society that is like the cutoff on the river. The banks may slowly change but erosion with time weakens barriers where there is a new course for the flow of history.


If there is a core to what men of conscience believe, it is that responsibility and character which are the operating functions of conscience must be built into all decisions and all actions and leaders must be able to think through issues in a complex time that the internet makes thinking less important than searching. History tends to rhyme with itself and I would leave you with several observations that I have always felt were particularly important. Recognizing moral hazard is a key to leadership.

The first was the observation by Lord Acton that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. This is also an appropriate way of saying that convenience always finds its way into power. The only way that conscience is able to reach the highest levels of power is when the people as a whole appreciate the necessity of conscience and it thus becomes convenient for those in power to support conscience. When that does not happen you often see the cycle of democracies over time as pointed out by Sir Alexander Tyler, primarily looking at Athens:

From Bondage to Spiritual Faith
From Spiritual Faith to Great Courage
From Courage to Liberty
From Liberty to Abundance
From Abundance to Selfishness
From Selfishness to Complacency
From Complacency to Apathy
From Apathy to Dependence
From Dependence back to Bondage

But it quite possible to change those directions if the essence of character and responsibility of conscience can impact society. No one showed the way better than a quotation attributed to Abraham Lincoln but more likely was created by Lincoln’s biographer that represented his beliefs:

You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift. You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. You cannot help the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer. You cannot further the brotherhood of man by encouraging class hatred. You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich. You cannot establish sound security on borrowed money. You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than you earn. You cannot build character and courage by taking away man’s initiative and independence. You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.

It can only be of concern to us that we have reached a state of apathy. Today the power of economics has shifted from on growth to discussions of rich versus poor and income inequality.

The power of politics has moved from focus on moral hazard to entitlement with the focus on the size and scope of government. Words of caution abound but actions are few.

So the real battle, the power of culture, a set of values as opposed to the prior two interests of economics and politics, is the raging battle between conscience (caring for others and the future) and convenience (self and now). What you learn here today will help you become a leader; the questions will be for whom you seek to lead – your interests or others. There is a series of books – “The Language of Conscience Series” and websites, and that trace the efforts of many who have sought wisdom for our generation. The future is in your hands and let it be guided by wise minds.


Leadership is taking the idealism of conscience and shaping the organizing principle of society through understanding the realities of convenience. You can never win all battles, but you can learn to choose your battles and win enough to keep society on a responsible path for our children’s sake. To do that you need remember that true leadership combines power and wisdom. At the Confucian Temple stands two figures – one a warrior, the other a scholar. In Western European gardens it is the knight and the monk. Never forget either – change takes action, but wise action.

Your great challenge for leadership today will be to bring unity. Leaders must have that or they will fail. Today, we have a multicultural society that will become more so. People are in diverse groups, arguing diversity, because they often do not receive the dignity they seek individually. The question is how to unify them back together. The choices are the transformation of a melting pot based on character and common values as Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Cesar Chavez, and our Founding Fathers envisioned, or a salad bowl of groups unified by transactional relativity and almost total toleration.

You will have to choose a vision for your leadership, and that is where understanding the line between conscience and convenience needs clear understanding.




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