Kicking the Can Down the Road

By | February 17, 2021

[February 17, 2021]  One of the best things about being a military veteran is having plenty of experience with bureaucracies and the concept of compromise.  My favorite subject in Grade School was American history.  And, I remember studying how leaders compromise themselves and their principles by kicking the can down the road.  I had a great teacher.

Decision-making is not easy, especially in the political sphere, where any decision will be aggressively challenged and criticized.  I have found that we can see cultural differences and biases drifting into how we carry out our official leadership duties.

Growing up in the Deep South during the 1950s, I had a pretty good education in American history.  But there was a bias that distorted my view of the U.S. Civil War and the history of this time.  See an earlier article here.

For example, I learned that the 1820 Missouri Compromise was the South’s way to stop interference from those “Damn Yankees” up north.  There is an old joke among those of us raised in the South that we didn’t know that Damn Yankee was two words until we were voting age.  And, we learned nothing about the abolitionist anti-slavery movement.

In the decades following the American Revolution, there was a growing consensus that slavery was immoral and that federal law should prohibit it.  Strong opinions were on both sides of the issue, and many would resort to violence to keep their way of life.  The Missouri Compromise of 1820 was about preventing war between slave states and free states.

As the expansion into the West continued, the desire to keep these potential states free became an obsession.  This “compromise” (which wasn’t a real compromise but an abdication of the moral case against slavery) only kicked the slavery issue down the road.  A generation later, the most destructive war ever fought in the U.S. was the result.

Delaying the decision on slavery cost the lives of more than 750,000 soldiers and civilians in the U.S. Civil War; nearly all whites.  And the war impoverished millions for generations.  It was by far the nation’s bloodiest war, best remembered, and still holds sway of decedents of Civil War soldiers.

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

21 thoughts on “Kicking the Can Down the Road

  1. Yusaf from Texas

    We’ve all done it. Procrastination – and this is what it is – seems to be built into us from birth. I’m sure there are many psychological reasons but the fact is, it is a problem if we plan on moving forward with our lives.

    1. corralesdon

      This is terrible news. The man had talent far beyond any mortal human. I was and will always be a great fan of his.

    2. old warrior

      How terrible. I knew he was dying but it is still shocking to hear of his death. I’m sure he will be forever remembered for his support of freedom across the world and esp. here in the United States. Rush is now kicking some butt in Heaven and those butts will be of the few liberals who managed to cheat their way in.

    1. Kenny Foster

      Kick the can down the road, a ubiquitous phrase in American politics over the last few years, is not a reference to the game of kick the can. It refers to the practice of kicking a can ahead of oneself while walking along a road. So, metaphorically, the phrase means to defer conclusive action with a short-term solution.

    2. Linux Man

      Hi all, the idea is all about procrastination for a reason. I know plenty of people who are into this. It’s easy, the lazy man’s way out of making a hard decision today and to possibly avoid responsibility now or in the future.

  2. Honey Flower Betsy

    Another possible scenario: You see a can discarded in the street near your house and kick it over toward your neighbor’s, thus making it his or her responsibility to pick it up (boo).

    1. Willie Shrumburger

      Good point, Honey. Looks like we have several variations on the meaning.

  3. Greg Heyman

    In the mid-1980s a new phrase began to be heard in the U.S. Congress. To “kick the can down the road” became, in the rhetoric of some lawmakers, a colorful and mildly critical new way of referring to putting off work on an issue for a later date. It should be no surprise that it was politicians who came up with this phraseology.

  4. Mr. T.J. Asper

    Another great article, thanks Gen. Satterfield. I hope that those who are reading these pages of your leadership blog are coming up with a good picture of what it is needed to be a good leader. Sometimes, I wonder. Most folks will not take the time to put into ‘thinking’ about leadership and that starts with reading about it.

    1. Rev. Michael Cain

      Read, think, write. This is what leaders must be able to do today to be successful. Yes, ‘kicking the can down the road’ by putting off reading, writing, and thinking is a problem we all sometimes face. But we must be willing to admit it and move on.

  5. Darwin Lippe

    Yeah, I know a lot of leaders (and just ordinary people) who would rather ‘kick the can down the road’ than actually do something requiring effort.

      1. Dale Paul Fox

        Time for an order of roses and candy for the misses. I hope you have insurance for medical purposes, Bill. On the serious side, this whole issue of putting things off for another day has merit on one side (for illustrate, why make a decision today if you don’t have to and without proper info for a decision). On the other side, make a damn decision when you are supposed to. My thoughts anyway.

    1. JT Patterson

      So true Darwin. I think this is more of a problem than most of us would like to admit.


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