Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.
~ GK Chesterton

Monday, August 24, 2015

Gen de Sonis & Integrity in Small Things

Once upon a time, I worked for a national retail chain.  Although I was a lowly part-timer, I qualified for the '15-minute break for every 4 hours worked' guideline.  Those in charge were fairly strict about keeping to the 15 minutes.  It was a courtesy to one's fellow workers.  If you didn't make it back in time, you were leaving your co-workers short-handed or you were making it so that the next one in line couldn't take their break. 

One of the things that bugged the lowly part-timers was how the managers would stroll out every morning for a 45-minute coffee break.  That would be in addition to whatever lunch hour they had coming to them, for working 8 hours.  At the time, I wondered if our crankiness about this was the same juvenile cry of "it's unfair" that kids complain, when mom and dad get to stay up late and even (gasp!) snack before bed. After all, working with me was a long-time (non-management) worker near retirement who would shrug it off, "management has its privileges."

All these years later, I tend to agree with my disgruntled young self.  More than privileges, management has responsibilities to set a good example.  I'm more of the mind of the drill sergeant who doesn't ask the recruits to do anything he cannot do himself.  I think I parent this way, too.  Of course, as a parent, there are certain privileges I enjoy that my children don't.  But I won't pull rank in order to 'break the rules' if the rules don't suit me.

I share this anecdote to illustrate a reason why I believe General Louis-Gaston de Sonis is an example of integrity that we should admire.  And, if in a position of power, an example to emulate.

Consider the following examples, taken from The Life of General de Sonis:
We have said how austere he was in his private life. His tent was a miserable one, and so low that he could only get into it on all fours. His bed was a sheep-skin or a rug laid upon hay or branches, nothing else; a wonderful contrast to the arrangements of his brother officers, whose luxurious appointments caused a general order to be issued by the Emperor, insisting on a diminution of their baggage and furniture. The order was promulgated on the 23rd of June, the eve of the battle of Solferino. But it came too late, the officers did not know how to dispose of their little comforts, and de Sonis remained as an honourable exception to the rest.
 And this:
One day a [soldier] in very bad humour exclaimed that ‘it was all very fine for the Colonel [de Sonis’s rank at the time] to let his men die of hunger, while he himself had a capital meal.’ This speech was repeated to Monsieur de Sonis, who the next day invited the [soldier] to dine with him. The man, though rather confused at the honor, consoled himself by thinking what a good dinner he would get. The evening came, and he went into his officer’s tent. Two biscuits, rice cooked in water, and a ration of lukewarm water out of a leather jug, that was the whole ‘menu’ and was, in fact, the daily meal of his chief. This little incident quickly became known. Everyone laughed, but no further complaints were made.
People respect those in positions of authority who set an example for others by the way they live.  I understand that there are times when a leader has to do something unpopular.  As a parent, I cannot worry about whether or not my children like me all the time.  Don't confuse my desire to act with integrity, for a wish to be liked.  Indeed, a person of integrity could find themselves quite disliked at times.  It happened to the General!

Does this teaser entice you to look more into the life of Monsieur de Sonis?  Get the book!


  1. It makes me want to learn more about de Sonis! That kind of integrity is so rare. BTW, I am enjoying getting to know your blog!

    1. Welcome! I am glad you found your way here.

      And I will be adding more about the General, as time allows!