In my younger days, one of the most popular TV programs was Bonanza. It was a western series set in the Nevada territory both during and following the Civil War.
The program had a very long run consisting of 14 seasons. It first aired on September 12, 1959 and ended January 16, 1973. The stars of the program were Lorne Greene, Pernell Roberts, Dan Blocker, and Michael Landon.
The story line of the series were the trials and tribulations of the Cartwright clan comprised of father Ben and his sons Adam, Eric aka 'Hoss', and Joseph 'Little Joe'. Ben had once been a sea captain but had come ashore and gone west to build his empire. His sons were each the result of a different marriage, with none of the wives surviving to make the journey to Nevada. The ranch founded by Ben and sons was the Ponderosa. It was much more than a ranch however, also having mining interests, timber and lumbering, as well as cattle ranching. The stories were about various conflicts which arose in the course of a very active business and community life.
I was 6 years old when the show first aired and spent my formative years following the events at the Ponderosa. I absorbed the idea that a family which works together on a shared vision can achieve much more than a single individual through his (or her) efforts. Sure, the members of the family were quite different in their personalities, and occasionally had differing opinions, but when push came to shove they presented a united front. I also absorbed the idea that work, consistent directed effort, was the pathway to accomplishment. Everyone on the ranch worked, there were no free lunches to be had. Everyone put forth their best offorts, everyone shared in the gain. It was far from a socialistic outlook, presenting instead a strong capitalistic message.
This program was initially in black and white. It was long before MTV, cable networks, the entire gamut of electronic offerings which comprise the modern entertainment buffet. It was often the top rated program for its time slot. TV had a grand total of three national networks plus whatever local programming your local network affiliate offered. There was Bonanza and there was something else, something less.
To take the lessons from the program and apply them to actual life was another matter entirely. It was difficult enough to focus myself in a consistent manner, much less try to inspire others to share any vision I may have had. There is nothing quite so disheartening as to try to lead, look behind and find no one there.
Leadership then must be the ability to inspire, to make your own vision that of others. How to do that is a skill I'm still working on.
What this cowboy opera gave me was hope, the idea that it was possible to accomplish things beyond today. It's a lesson people still need, from the financially challenged senior citizen to the kid in grade school. Learn to have hope, then do all you can to clear a pathway for that hope to arrive upon. It's a recipe which has worked for millions, which will continue to produce good results for millions more.
For that one simple yet powerful gift, thank you Ben Cartwright.