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Jewish World Review
Feb. 21, 2006
/ 23 Shevat, 5766
The Rhino Principle
There's a certain rule in life that I've found worth considering. It
particularly applies if you're confronted by a crisis. I call it the
Now, the rhino is not a particularly subtle or clever animal. It's
the last of the antediluvian quadrupeds to carry a great weight of
body armor. And by all the rules of progressive design and the
process of natural selection the rhino ought to have been
eliminated. But it hasn't been. Why not? Because the rhino is
single-minded. When it perceives an object, it makes a decision — to
charge. And it puts everything it's got into that charge. When the
charge is over, the object is either flattened or has gone a long
way into cover, whereupon the rhino instantly resumes browsing.
Few people think of learning from a rhino. But I have. And when I
hear of an author who cannot finish or get started on a book, I send
him (or her) a rhino card. I paint a watercolor of a rhinoceros on
the front of a postcard — something I do well, as I've practiced it a
great many times. And in the space next to the address I write:
"Stop fussing about that book. Just charge it. Keep on charging it
until it is finished. That's what the rhino does. Put this card over
your desk and remember the Rhino Principle."
Sending a rhino card usually works. Now, the Rhino Principle may not
produce the perfect book, but it does produce a book. And once a
book is drafted, it can be improved, polished and made satisfactory.
But if the Rhino Principle is ignored, there is no book at all.
This principle can be applied to many other things, particularly
business. When an entrepreneur has an object in his line of vision,
he should dismiss all other considerations from his mind, abandon
all other activities and charge directly at that object, continuing
to charge until the object has been secured. All kinds of qualities
are needed to make a great businessman. But aggressive
single-mindedness is by far the most important. Indeed, it is
To what extent does the Rhino Principle apply to politics and
statesmanship? In my view it applies with even more force. The story
of Moses in the book of Exodus is an exposition on this approach. So
is the monumental story of Alexander the Great of Macedonia and the
destruction of the Persian Empire. Caesar's conquest of Gaul, as
described by himself, is another epic in the need to charge and keep
on charging until the object is taken.
In the history of the United States one sees time and time again how
success was achieved through the concentrated pursuit of a clear and
The original settlers who arrived on the Mayflower observed this
principle. They wanted the freedom to practice the religion of their
choice, and to secure this they disregarded wealth, comfort and
safety and worked toward their goal until it was achieved.
The American leaders who objected to George III's government argued
around (and beside) the point until they produced the Declaration of
Independence. This was the moment at which America adopted the Rhino
Principle: A salient object was perceived, and everything was
sacrificed for its attainment.
Abraham Lincoln concentrated all his energies into one two-pronged
aim: the preservation of the Union and the defeat of those trying to
sunder it. He pursued this aim wherever it took him and never
deviated from it, despite enormous difficulties and reverses, until
the Union was triumphant.
Winston Churchill embodied the Rhino Principle. His objects were not
always consistent—and they were sometimes the wrong objects. But
there was always the same single-mindedness in his pursuit of them.
In 1940 Churchill and the defense of freedom in Europe came together
in a common destiny. I remember, as a boy of 11, listening to his
broadcasts during that fateful summer and hearing my father say,
"That man Winston Churchill has a clear aim and is very determined.
That is what we need today."
I've often noted that the statesmen who succeed on the big issues
have a distinct vision of their goals combined with undeviating
energy in pursuing them. Konrad Adenauer was one such example,
Charles de Gaulle another. And in the 1980s two others who shared
that trait, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, joined forces to
win the Cold War. Neither was very sophisticated nor subtle, but
both understood the importance of having a clear aim and
concentrating unreservedly on that aim until it was accomplished.
Is President George W. Bush cast from the same mold? I rather think
so. I certainly hope so.
We can choose to lead quiet lives and get through them without
achieving much. But if we want to do the big thing, if we hope to
leave a record that will be admired and remembered, we must learn to
distinguish between the peripheral and the essential. Then, having
clearly established our central objective, we must charge at it
again and again until the goal is achieved.
That is what the rhinoceros does. It may not be a model animal in
most ways. But it does one thing very well. And that one thing we
can learn: Charge!
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© 2006, Paul Johnson
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