A long time ago in one of my very early posts, I referenced a speech given by Lieutenant General Melvin Zais to the students at the National Defense University in the late 1970's. General Zais ended his speech with a pointed reminder to the officers assembled that, "You have to care...You have to give a damn."
This is a post about just that - Giving a damn. Caring. Thinking and deciding and really figuring out what you care about and why. And not only about your Soldiers, but also about your service. What it means to you to serve. Who and what you serve and why. And how what you care about and why and how you translate that and put it into action is the essence of having a vision. A vision for yourself, your family, your squad, platoon, or company. It is also how you lead.
This whole issue of caring and giving a damn and leading came up when I was talking to someone earlier this week about the Occupy Wall Street movement that has become part of the national discussion in major cities across our country. My friend asked me a simple question. "What would you march for? What would drive you into the street to protest something that was happening to you, or on behalf of you?" That question stuck with me all week long. What would I march for? What do I value enough to stand my ground and say yes or no to? What do I care deeply and passionately about? What would move me to action? I didn't have an answer readily available. The question itself seemed to back me up for a moment. I had never considered publicly what I stood for enough to say that I would take to the streets over issue X or Y. But maybe it's time we all asked ourselves that question. As a leader, the ability to answer and settle that question in your mind and then articulate it to those you lead is critical. Folks need to spend time thinking about this now. Rolling out to some major city to respond to a threat is not going to be the time to figure out what side of the issue you are on...
What I can no longer be is ambivalent. Standing idly by while the world moves around me. Never stopping to ensure that I am not just getting swept up by the current. Taking the time to ensure that where I am standing is in fact the place I should be standing, not just some place I ended up when the current finally slowed down and dumped me in the shallow water.
I have reached a place in my journey where I can stop and pause for a moment. To reflect and enjoy the successes. To look at those areas that still need work and rest a little so that I can come back at them with a more clear vision of where I want to be. To take a breather and check my authenticity against a real live moment in time and listen closely to the reply in my heart. Times like these require a still heart that is comfortable even if everything else is on shaky ground.
What I can no longer be is apathetic. Willfully surrendering my sense of right and wrong and what I value by saying that it doesn't effect me. I don't live in New York, or Los Angeles, or D.C.. I live in Clarksville, TN. But living where I do doesn't mean that I can simply pretend that the issues in New York, or L.A., or D.C. aren't my issues as well. I have to stand up when standing up is the right thing to do.
You cannot figure out what you stand for unless you think about it in real and concrete ways. The OWS movement provides all of us the opportunity to do that. To ask ourselves what side of the issue we line up on and why. I'm not going to debate one side or the other here, but rather to implore you to take a moment and start to figure out for yourself where you stand. Otherwise, you just might end up getting swept along by the current and end up somewhere that you do not intend. And that is the worst thing that can happen to anyone. To wake up one day and wonder how the hell you got there. Each of us has the opportunity every day to challenge the way we think, to try on new ideas, to challenge the old protocols. Why would we simply roll over and never ask the hard questions that need to be asked in order to be calm about where we stand? You cannot be lazy about your democracy. Democracy at this point has turned into a full-contact game. And it requires the full engagement of each of us.
Because I am in the military people often have the mistaken impression that my belief system is dictated to me by the Government. That the Army's values are automatically my values. That I somehow surrendered my thinking breathing soul to Uncle Sam all those years ago and never once stopped and asked for it back. And none of that is true. Having said that, those values are generally not brought into question very often. Nine times out of ten, what a Soldier believes personally will be very close to the stated beliefs of the institution. But it's that one time that matters. That one time when there will be a gap between a value I hold true personally, and what the institution might declare publicly. And that is the time for thinking. That is the time for knowing, and that is the time to have settled an issue in your own heart. A Soldier has a greater need to learn about, understand, internalize and decide those things which he or she values above all else, more than most others do. He has to. It means thinking about what you are doing in advance. It means asking the hard questions that need to be asked. Consider the following little tidbit of history.
"The Little Rock Nine were a group of African-American students who were enrolled in Little Rock Central High School in September 1957, as a result of The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in the historic Brown v. Board of Education case. Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus, in direct opposition to the Court's ruling, activated and deployed the Arkansas National Guard to support the segregationists on 4 September 1957. The sight of a line of soldiers blocking nine black students from attending high school immediately polarized the city. Attorneys from the U.S. Justice Department requested an injunction against the governor's deployment of the National Guard from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas in Little Rock. Judge Ronald Davies granted the injunction and ordered the governor to withdraw the National Guard on 20 September.[15As a result, elements of the division's 1st Airborne Battle Group, 327th Infantry (bearing the lineage of the old Company A, 327th Glider Infantry Regiment) were ordered to Little Rock by President Eisenhower to enforce the court injunction during the crisis. The division was deployed from September until Thanksgiving 1957, when Task Force 153rd Infantry, (federalizedArkansas National Guard) which had also been on duty at the school since 24 September, assumed responsibility."
If it's 1957 and you haven't figured out where you stand on racial integration, this is no small matter. In fact, this is huge. This is the government of the United States taking on a State in order to enforce and uphold the rule of law. But if I am a bigot or racist or don't really understand the supremacy of the Constitution in America, then this is going to be a difficult time for me.
As a Soldier I have to be a thinking man. I have to have truly given consideration to the oath of enlistment I took that says "To support and defend the Constitution of The United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic...."
General Zais was talking about caring for your Soldiers when he gave his speech a long time ago. I'm talking about caring as well. Caring for your country and it's Constitution enough to figure out where you stand and then to have the courage to take one. You have to care. You have to give a damn.
As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome...