It Takes Courage And Character To Unify People

by  Don Shapiro  |  Career Development

In the 6th century BC, Aesop told a fable about the Lion and The Four Oxen.

A lion used to prowl around a field where four oxen dwelled. Many times he would try to eat them but whenever he approached the four oxen would back their tales up to each other with their bodies pointed outward in different directions. No matter what direction the lion approached, he was met by the horns of one of them and could do nothing. At last, the oxen fell to quarreling amongst themselves and so each went off to a pasture of their own in a separate corner of the field. Then the lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end to all four.

Aesop’s moral to this fable has become one of the most famous sayings in the English language: United We Stand, Divided We Fall.

Throughout history, Aesop’s moral has been repeated over and over. Six centuries later the bible said “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.” Abraham Lincoln used a paraphrased version of that in his acceptance speech as candidate for President in June, 1858, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

The winners of every major war, conflict or cause all had their roots in everyone being united as one. The United States exist because farmers, merchants, clergy, family members and more all put the cause of the American revolution above their own individual problems and needs.

A Moral For Leaders

Behind Aesop’s moral lies a deeper moral that speaks to us as leaders. When no one assumes a leadership role, everything falls to pieces. If just one of the oxen had been strong enough in character to lead the other oxen, they could have maintained their united stance against the lion. They become divided because there was no leader amongst the four of them.

Everywhere we turn we see signs of division, lack of unity and too many people more concerned about themselves than others. In major corporations, the halls of governments, sports, education, science and communities of all kinds, this lack of unity continues to spread like a wildfire.

We surely don’t lack for information about how to be an effective leader today. There are more books, leadership coaches and consultants and more education programs about leadership than at any time in the history of the world. One does not have to go very far or exert much effort to get first class guidance on how to be an effective leader.

How can there be so much available to develop good leaders while lack of unity continues to spiral out of control? The crisis we face today isn’t about the techniques, methods and attributes of good leaders. We face a crisis of courage and character.

Too many of those who have learned how to be excellent leaders don’t step up to the plate when it’s really needed out of fear. They fear for their jobs, their image, their family, their future. Have too many of us become too comfortable in our way of life to take the risk when the stakes are high, the controversy is present and the consequences possibly severe?


America was founded by individuals who were willing to risk their life for what they believed in. They not only possessed the courage to act, they possessed the character to know right from wrong. The United States exist because of courage and character. The disunity we see all around us at home and on foreign shores can only be solved when enough leaders stand up for what is right and enough people follow them because they are people of true character.


United we stand. Divided we fall. Where are the leaders with the courage and character to unite us all?

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What People Are Saying

Chery Gegelman  |  13 May 2011  |  Reply

Don – Isn’t it amazing how ANCIENT wisdom is the key to unlocking answers for every generation including today? Thank you for reminding us that the answers have already been found, they just need to be applied!

Don Shapiro  |  16 May 2011  |  Reply

Chery, yes I’m always amazed at what I found when I start digging into the past. We are not the first people to experience troubles nor find ways to address them . There is a lot of wisdom out there. No need to reinvent the wheel. Just modernize it for today’s times.

Dana Theus  |  13 May 2011  |  Reply

“Too many of those who have learned how to be excellent leaders don’t step up to the plate when it’s really needed out of fear.”

Don – I agree with you about this. I believe the greatest challenge to our world right now is the fear gripping everyone – not just leaders, but everyone who COULD be a leader if they weren’t so afraid of failure, shame, poverty, sadness etc. Fear is the biggest inhibitor of leaders’ greatest potential – the ability to stand in their personal power and seek meaningful outcomes in the world, large and small. Standing united for a higher good is certainly part of that. Leaders who know their power and are skilled at helping others around them step into their power too, will be the ones to save us. I think this goes beyond just being united in purpose and goes to a willingness to set aside personal ego in the interests of group power and potential.

Thanks for the thought provoking article. Look forward to reading more.


Don Shapiro  |  16 May 2011  |  Reply

Dana, it seems to me that there is more fear around us than I remember from the past. Maybe it’s just a perceptual thing but our times seem to have made so many fearful about so much. Ego is a part of this but I’m not sure it’s the whole explanation. Many people are just trying to get by and protect what they have. Considering what they have seen happen around them, it is a natural reaction. Yet, things are not what they could be because not enough people have been willing to stand up and lead. Leadership does take courage. We have to trust ourselves and trust that others will believe us and follow along.

We also have to recognize that the act of leadership is not easy. Often times, people know there will be hardships, resistance and more to something. Today, many people don’t want to make waves and so they shy away from these types of challenges.

You are right. When people can step outside of themselves and think of what’s best for others, their fear can melt away and they can often find the strength to lead.

Dana Theus  |  17 May 2011  | 

There is more fear now than there used to be, but I don’t think it’s because times are tougher. Goodness, look at the conditions people survived through history. If I had to venture a guess at the reason, it might be because leadership is becoming democratized and more “average bears” can now be leaders. Leaders used to be groomed or self-made heroes, now leadership is accessible to EVERYONE. We used to let our leaders manage our fears for us, and with dispersed power and influence comes dispersed fear – and opportunities to overcome it.

I haven’t thought about it this way before. Interested in people’s thoughts. Thanks for the good conversation!

Don Shapiro  |  17 May 2011  | 

Dana, you have raised a very interesting question. I would like to hear from more people at Lead Change about what they feel is causing all this fear. While we do have a society where anyone can be a leader, there is still some type of filtering process for a leader to arrive at a very influential position. They have to go through a lot of hoops and have some credentials usually. Yet, those at this level are showing fear too….or the opposite…pandering the crowd.

Dana Theus  |  18 May 2011  | 

Don – your question got me thinking on another blog post, but I too will look to see if other people have ideas about why all the fear. In the meantime, I pinged this post on another issue. I referenced this post in a blog that’s going up tomorrow on Scwharzenegger and Strauss-Kahn ( Let me know what you think.

Denise W. Barreto  |  16 May 2011  |  Reply

Great post. I agree with so many points. Character is in short supply these days and folks who have it often suffer but always sleep peacefully.

I’ll be tweeting this post and linking it to my Relationships Matter Now Facebook page

Don Shapiro  |  16 May 2011  |  Reply

Denise, Glad you liked it. I appreciate your sharing this with others. One of the things I keep thinking about is where does character start. Seems to me it starts in the home. So if we don’t have enough people with character out there, what does this say about our current parenting practices? Maybe parent retraining is a part of the solution! I’ll check out your Facebook page.

Denise  |  16 May 2011  | 

Yes, Don you are correct… it starts at home and unfortunately, basic parenting are also in short supply due to the crushing trajectory of the “family”. Family is not only about blood but it’s also about community and accountability for one another. It pains me to hear of a family breaking apart and that is why I know my life’s work – to revolutionize relationships on planet Earth – is indeed my calling and I’m working day and night to help folks proactively care for all the relationships in their lives

Sanjay  |  17 May 2011  |  Reply

I think apart from Courage and Character, Competence is of prime importance. Competence breeds confidence

Jason T.  |  20 May 2011  |  Reply

I love this post, the thread of character, courage and “connection” through history. I have a blog post about Character and Courage at Work at my company website. Don I agree with you and the others about the paralyzing fear that grips most of our potential leaders. I believe a large part of it is ego. To develop power and influence these days it often requires a track record of visible results and many credentials in one’s field. The people who seek power usually do so as an ego-building or even kingdom-building process. The over-inflated egos are like helium balloons on the verge of popping…the bigger they get the less they try to stray from the vertical path in order to avoid running into any sharp corners. Power-mongers are not leaders…I like to think of them as sheep in wolves clothing.

True leaders have humility and embrace the idea that others, no matter how big or small their balloon is, may have a valid perspective. True leaders seek out the perspectives of others, in particular opposing perspectives, to help make their positions even stronger. It also has the benefit of making their connections with others stronger. And when they have exercised due diligence and mindfulness in crafting their position, they will stand up for what they believe with conviction.

These days too many potential leaders don’t open themselves up to opposing opinions, and don’t stand up for their own positions, for fear that they will lose the small sphere of influence that they do have…which eventually has the inverse effect as their world continually changes around them.

Frank Bucaro  |  06 Jun 2011  |  Reply

“The crisis we face today isn’t about the techniques, methods and attributes of good leaders. We face a crisis of courage and character.”
This is so true. I always say that morale filters down, it never filters up. If you don’t have a leader with character and courage you are bound to see failure.
Thanks for the though provoking article. I share it on my FaceBook Fan page.

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