Book Notes: Message to Garcia

Message to Garcia by Elbert Hubbard is not really a book. It is an article from the “Philistine” magazine of March 1899 that became immensely popular and was reprinted as a pamphlet in Russian, German, French, Spanish, Turkish, Hindi, Mandarin and Japanese, perhaps more. It is freely available on the Internet. Briefly, it is about two things:

  1. Excellence;
  2. One person can change the world.

There are those who do things excellently, as opposed to those who only partly do a thing if they bother to do it at all. The excellent can make huge changes. Those who do not seize excellence can barely do their job. The common wage-earning man of 1899 was useless when given any task requiring judgement and initiative.

make this request: “Please look in the encyclopedia and make a brief memorandum for me concerning the life of Correggio”.

Will the clerk quietly say, “Yes, sir,” and go do the task?

On your life, he will not. He will look at you out of a fishy eye and ask one or more of the following questions:

Who was he?

Which encyclopedia?

Where is the encyclopedia?

Was I hired for that?

Don’t you mean Bismarck?

What’s the matter with Charlie doing it?

Is he dead?

Is there any hurry?

Shan’t I bring you the book and let you look it up yourself?

What do you want to know for?

Such a man is a waste of a position, and might as well be let go. He will never be a great success unless he changes something in himself. Such a man must transform himself to be more like Col. Rowan, who was asked by Pres. McKinley to carry a message to Col. Garcia, the leader of the Cuban rebels against Spain. Rowan had lived in Cuba and written a book about the island. Rowan traveled by himself in small boats to Cuba, then hiked by himself across an island occupied by the hostile Spanish, through jungle and over mountain to Garcia’s jungle encampment, where he made contact, delivered his message, developed a rapport, then left the island and returned with a command of American soldiers to assist Garcia in his successful rebellion.

Cuba was able to throw off the Spanish yoke because Rowan reached Garcia and delivered McKinley’s message. Without Rowan’s excellence in every task he had to complete in order to carry that message it would not have happened.

How relevant is this pamphlet?

Though nobody knows the story of Rowan and Garcia, the problem still exists. The article is more than a simple historical curiosity. There are still plenty of workers like the man who only works when he is being supervised, only does what he is told, fobs off his responsibilities on others, argues against every new assignment, complains, and makes excuses for his failures when he bothers to do his job at all. Unions and HR Departments exist to protect such people and keep them employed.

One man can change the world. He doesn’t have to be extraordinary, but he has to embrace excellence. We need to remember this in these days when the progressive march to eliminate individual freedom in these United States has been advancing, almost without interruption for 110 years.

Take heart, stay optimistic, and think strategically. We have nothing to fear but panic, nothing to lose but mediocrity, and our country’s freedom to win again.

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