I am mostly an incrementalist. Which means that I believe that progress can often be gained step by step, brick by brick.
I can be happy with the success of “some” knowing that “all” is often elusive. I can be satisfied with “a little” knowing that “a lot” can be built by an accumulation of “littles”.
So, where others may strain and fuss against the restraints of incrementalism, I can thrive.
Still, even I must admit that sometimes, incrementalism is not enough. In fact, sometimes it is wrong. Sometimes, you have to go all in.
As in so many things, I learned this lesson best from my wood. Or more precisely, from my wood-burning stove.
This is a big stove, something like 18” x 15” x 24”. Being cautious in the amount of fuel I consumed, I began by putting small amounts of wood in the stove. Paper enough to ignite the kindling; kindling enough to ignite the slender logs; and then one or two modest logs to warm the stove, the room and me.
For the longest time I wondered why the stove didn’t work well. Here was a workhorse built of cast-iron, a bulldog of a stove meant to handle a cavernous room. And there I was, sitting not 3 feet away and barely able to feel the heat.
Perhaps, my husband gently opined, you need to fill it up. Perhaps the stove needs to reach a certain peak of temperature before it starts pumping out the volume of heat it needs to conquer the space around it.
Not finding any good reason to refute this, I conceded that that might do the trick.
Whatever the physics, whatever the reason, it did. Half a stove is marginally better than none. But a full stove is ten times better than a half.
So it is in life sometimes. We cannot build a business, a non-profit, a movement with bits of our soul. We cannot move mountains if we start by opting for half. And we cannot compromise fairly if we start from a position of too little.
This is true in our private lives and it is true in national politics.
The challenge, as in so many aspects of our lives, is to know when to do what.
Mr. President, this looks like the time to go all in.