Would you pass the “red shirt warrior” test?
Long ago, within the Lakota Indian tribe there was a prestigious warrior society called the “Ogle Lute Wicapi,” or the Red Shirt Warriors.
The exclusive society issued only two invitations for new members once every four years. Not everyone who was invited passed the test required to become a member.
The membership requirement involved a test of endurance — combined with a concealed test of honor.
In the hottest time of the year, prospective warriors had four days to run a route to a prominent landmark — a high shale cliff along a river — and recover a red sash tied to a stone at the top. They could carry no food or water with them, and had only a knife for protection.
Each prospective member would usually return by sunset of the fourth day, exhausted, hungry, thirsty.
But before he could eat or drink, he was taken to the lodge of the Red Shirt Warriors Society and asked to present the red sash he had retrieved.
In the entire history of the society, no warrior ever returned without a sash.
The sash was rolled tightly, and the warrior was asked to hold it high above his head and let it unfurl.
If it touched the ground, the warrior became a member of the society. If it did not, he was denied.
What the society always kept hidden is that there were two sashes available to warriors on the endurance route.
The long sash was at the top of the cliff, where they knew they were supposed to go. A shorter one was tied to a tree about halfway up the cliff face, where the warriors would rest in the shade on the way up.
Warriors who brought back the shorter sash had not gone the full distance and paid the full price of admittance.
Imagine the shame those warriors felt — to come so close to admittance, but fall so short because they had cheated themselves.
Today, we don’t have a Red Shirt Warrior Society. But we encounter red-sash tests of integrity daily:
- The plumber who considers using inferior materials and performing shoddy workmanship because it will all be hidden by drywall.
- The driver who sees a stranded car, feels prompted to stop, and immediately starts rationalizing why he shouldn’t.
- The salesman tempted to conceal product flaws from prospects.
- The student who’s a wizard at passing tests, but doesn’t pay the price to get a real education.
- The husband feeling temptations at his computer, struggling to be worthy when he returns to his lodge.
- The businessman pouncing on money-making opportunities at the expense of family-strengthening activities.
“The time to be most vigilant,” counsels my Live Extraordinary Manifesto, “is when no one else will ever know.”
Except no matter what you do, there are always two who know: you and God.
And that’s precisely why vigilance in those private moments is so critical: No outside judgment on your performance matters more than what you think of yourself and whether you’ve lived up to God’s standards.
No matter what elite societies we gain admittance to, no worldly acclaim can drown out the demands of conscience.
The only secret society that really matters is the one between you and God.
When my son Alex was six years old, we were on a walk and were picking up garbage as we walked.
I asked him, “Why are we doing this? Is it to make the street look better?”
He answered in the affirmative.
“That’s part of it,” I said. “But more importantly, we do it just because that’s the kind of people we are. We make things better than how we found them. It makes no difference who notices”what matters is that we know if we walked past garbage without picking it up.”
I passed the test that day. But every day — nay, every moment — of my life, I wonder if my red sash will reach the ground…
*The story of the Red Shirt Warrior Society is found in the book The Lakota Way by Joseph M. Marshall.