by Dr. David Seibel, Head of School
“I don’t start bonfires but I hand out matchbooks.”
That’s just one of a handful of the quotes that Terry Anker enlightened me with in our recent Project Legacy 2.0 interview. Once or twice a month, I do these interviews with people outside of the Academy so I can improve my leadership inside of the Academy. I interviewed Terry Anker, because of our shared love for the great books as well as our common commitment to preserving liberty and cultivating individual responsibility. Terry and I both share the belief that thinking leaders need to learn from the thought leaders and most of the best thought leaders have been dead for a really, really long time.
You can see some of my previous Project Legacy posts here:
Terry Anker is one of those thinking leaders who serves as a businessman and who sits on a number of boards (e.g. the Liberty Fund) and also writes weekly for the Current (see here). I particularly enjoyed my time researching and interviewing Mr. Anker because of his love for good quotes. A fine quotation is a diamond in the hand of a man of wit and here are the top quotes that came out in our time together.
#1. “Hard times create strong men, strong men create good times, good times create weak men, and weak men create hard times.”
Although that quote is from a Michael Hopf, Anker’s life proves its truth. Mr. Anker’s success is not due to any spectacular family background. Anker shared,
“People with a lot of opportunity are more harmed by it than they know. I have always taken life as it was without a lot of extra expectation and thought my future was determined by my choices, not my birth. My parents shared with me when I was 10 that I was going to go to college. Their parents’ generation fought in wars so that I could have the privilege to be the first person in my family to go through college. After college, I went to law school and was one of the few kids whose dad did not have a broad network.”
Parents today would be wise to remember that challenging their students is often what calls out their greatness. Removing barriers and obstacles might make a child happy in the moment but it will not make them durable in the long run. It is hard times that create strong men.
#2 “I don’t start bonfires, but I hand out matchbooks.”
Mr. Anker shared this quote both times that we met—it stands out because it is runs against the grain of modern thought. Anker explained,
“I could build a pyre to myself to illuminate myself or I attempt to give the opportunity to countless individuals to heat and wrap their families and provide light for the people that they care about. Just think about how many match books could be created out of a telephone pole.”
Matchbooks can create many fires and so can education. I think this is why I value education so much—it is the great multiplier and people-grower. It is the one profession that creates all of the other professions. Frederick Douglas wrote, “Knowledge makes a man unfit to be a slave.” In 1855, he also wrote, “It is easier to build strong children than fix broken men.” The beauty of educating a child is that it creates freedom. Matchbooks are a fitting illustration, because the child has the freedom to decide what to do with the matchbooks. But they also have the responsibility to use the matchbooks for virtue rather than vice.
#3 “I’d rather be an architect than a building superintendent.”
Mr. Anker shared,
“I am more suited to build and direct than maintain. Those are different skillsets that exist in different people.”
Part of Mr. Anker’s success as a business investor and decision-maker has been due to his well-developed judgement in evaluating various situations. Anker said,
“Judgment was a word that was used in the positive and now it is used in the negative. If I missed my curfew, my parents would say that I need to use better judgment. Now parents are so afraid of being accused of being judgmental.”
Interestingly, his judgment has not come from a series of MBA courses but through reading the great books and reflecting on the accumulated wisdom throughout the ages. Mr. Anker was adamant that students need to understand Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments before they read The Wealth of Nations. For kids today, specialization is fine, but delay it as long as possible so that they have intellectual range and can play any position on the field of life. If we specialize too soon, we prepare kids for jobs that do not exist and neglect to supply them with the moral foundations of judgment that they’ll use forever.
#4 “There has never been an age that I’ve been that I did not think was fantastic.”
Mr. Anker’s quote here is similar to the adage that you should say that the best place you’ve ever lived is the place that you currently live. Our times and places are largely out of our control but we can control our responses to these changing circumstances. Anker shared,
“With each age, it opens an entirely set of new opportunities. My perspective was so limited when I was younger. As a young person, I benefited most from the counsel of others. As an older person, I benefit most through reading and reflection.”
What Anker is demonstrating here is the divine art of contentment where we develop the discipline of gratitude and do not indulge in the self-gratification of complaining. For parents with children, I find it essential that my kids not see me complain or speak unfit words of anyone else. My wife recently challenged me to not say that I was tired when I was at home. She said, “Do you say you’re tired at work?” I said, “I would never do that.” She said, “Don’t do it at home then.” We are all better than we deserve; if that’s your starting point, every day is a new mercy.
#5 “Heavy is the head that wears the crown.”
This quote from Shakespeare came up when Mr. Anker and I discussed the unique burdens and responsibilities that a leader has. Anker shared,
“As you mature, you need less authoritarian leadership and you become more cognizant of the custodial role of their position and how it affects other people’s lives. Leaders are responsible for the welfare of others. When you’re in charge of how a business performs, you really just pick up more serious responsibilities.”
When I watch people who I have inspired me, I think the main thing that I value is the way in which they take responsibility for themselves and others. I think the best parents I have observed are the ones that do not complain about the burden of parenting but constantly speak of the blessings of parenting. Recently at church, a friend said, “When you kids are little, your hands are full, because the kids need you. When kids are older, your heart is full, because your kids think they don’t need you.”
#6 “My greatest achievement has been my family.”
Mr. Anker and I share a common friend in Paul Estridge who passed away in January 2023 who said the same thing—he said that his greatest legacy was his children. Whoever you’re with right now, whatever you’re doing right now, wherever you’re at right now, what are you doing to setup the next generation for success? In Hamilton County, there is abundant opportunity for envying the possessions and the networks and the influences of others. But I am finding that the people I look up to the most are the ones that have great relationships with their kids. One day, you will leave this earth and relinquish all of your possessions to your posterity. What are you doing today to make sure that you’ve invested deeply in your own kids and in the next generation?
If you want to learn more about Mr. Anker and read his weekly column, go here. If you want to come and see the classical difference in action, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to learn about our next Community Leaders Breakfast.
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