The Second 50

Living the good life

Author: admin (page 2 of 3)

“Talent Wins Games; Teamwork Wins Championships”

I have been a part of a team for all of my adult life. Sometimes as a leader, other times, a subordinate, but ALWAYS as a member. Any professional success I achieved was the result of teamwork. Any accomplishment, the harvest of time spent working with others towards a common goal. As Nigerian author, Ifeanyi Enoch Onuoha, so ably stated, “Teamwork is the secret that makes common people achieve an uncommon result.”

The Cambridge Dictionary defines teamwork as “the combined actions of a group of people working together effectively to achieve a goal.”  Borrowing a phrase from my Army lexicon, teamwork is essentially a “unity of effort”; people banded together in pursuit of a common objective. In the words of James Cash Penney, founder of the department store chain that bears his name – J.C. Penney -, “The best teamwork comes from people who are working independently toward one goal in unison.”

Though some have referred to me as a good leader, from my perspective, I am a much more effective team builder. Like President Ronald Reagan, I have always viewed myself just an adequate leader but in understanding this shortcoming, made a career of identifying and recruiting subordinates who were talented, skillful and above all, could function as a member of a team. To that end, I hold African poet and essayist, Ogwo David Emenike’s observation “You can’t do it better without teamwork” sacrosanct.

I have found there are very few tasks executed better in solitary confinement than performed by a coalition of like-minded and similarly motivated teammates. Financial entrepreneur, Farshad Asl, proclaimed “Be fast, be first, but never be alone. Nothing can replace the value of teamwork.” As a results multiplier, few outcomes surpass the synergy spawned from an alliance of similarly focused colleagues. Auto industrialist and inventor, Henry Ford, addressed the virtue of this phenomenon stating “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”

Following my retirement from the Army in 2010, I spent four years – 2011-2015 – as a Department of Defense (DoD) GS civilian in Afghanistan. During this time I had the honor of leading cadres of advisors who supported the Afghan security institutions. My teams included senior DoD civilians (GS13-15), US military officers from all five services in the ranks of captain to colonel, and a host of military and police officers from around the globe. In almost all instances we were able to coalesce into cohesive elements focused on a common goal. As a collective, we keenly embraced what the “Father of the Japanese Short Story”, Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, meant when he penned the following stave: “Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.”

That said, not everyone was quick to seize the title, teammate, or extol the merits of teamwork. Sadly, some of the professionals I managed lacked the desire, ability or willingness to grasp the goodness of collaboration and as such, undermined the effectiveness of the mission and threatened morale and espirt de corps. Addressing teamwork, Canadian philosopher, Matshona Dhliwayo, shrewdly noted “On one foot you limp; on two feet you sprint.”

For the guileful few in question this metaphor was unnoticed leading to a decision on my part to “vote them off the island” (a phrase a few of you will recognize form the popular TV show, “Survivor; shameful, yes, but very apropos) and send them home. For some reading this blog, perhaps a strong tonic but as Emirati business consultant, Nazim Ambalath declared “Teamwork builds trust and the trust builds growth.” In my eyes, a threat to trust was a threat to success.

Several years ago, Ukrainian pastor, Sunday Adelaja, proclaimed “Команда – це відображення свого лідера” (“A team is a reflection of its leader.”) For some, this declaration is an endorsement, for others, an indictment. Never wanting to be lumped with the latter I adopted an approach early in my career. Truth in lending, it is not an original concept but it is one that has served me very well over the years both in terms of building teams and directing them on a glide-path to success.

My “12 Cs” to building a winning team are as follows in no order of preference or priority:

  • COACHING: Simply stated, be a teacher and be a mentor. Provide guidance, support and oversight.  “Teamwork is…people working as one.  You become selfless.”  – Duke University basketball coaching legend and United States Military Academy at West Point graduate, Mike Krzyzewski
  • CHARACTER: Set the example. Walk the walk and talk the talk.  Remember, “Character is much easier kept than recovered.” – Thomas Paine, one of the first American Colonists to advocate for independence from England
  • COMMUNICATION: Never forget that the art of listening is just as critical as the art of speaking. To lead, one must be able to listen.  “The art of communication is the language of leadership” – Presidential speechwriter, James C. Hume
  • COMMITMENT: The leader must be the most invested member of the team.  If your subordinates realize this they will likely exhibit the same level of caring.  If not, disunity is a foregone conclusion.  “Commitment is an act, not a word.”  – French satirist and philosopher, John-Paul Sarte
  • CONTAGIOUS ENERGY:  As the leader, if you are not the hardest worker on the team, you are wrong.  If you are, your subordinates will follow.  Another Frenchman, poet and essayist, Charles Pierre Baudelaire, penned the following “L’inspiration vient de travailler tous les jours” (“Inspiration comes of working every day”)
  • CARING and CONCERN: Mission first; your people always.  “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  – The 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt
  • CONSISTENCY: Do not vacillate; your subordinates must always know what to expect.  According to Lincoln Chafee, “Trust is built through consistency.”
  • COLLABORATION:  Talk to your people; make sure their ideas are heard.  “Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up.” – American Civil War veteran and Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Oliver Wendell Holmes
  • CULTIVATE:  Create an environment that propagates independent thought and encourages a fertilization of ideas and discourse.  “Cultivation of mind should be the ultimate aim of human existence” – Indian Social Reformer, Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar
  • CERTIFY:  Give credit where credit is due.  My mantra: Every good idea sprang from a subordinate; every bad one, the progeny of the leader.  “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”  The 33rd President of the United States, Harry S. Truman
  • CAMRADERIE: As a leader, foster an atmospheric that overtly inspires the team concept.  “If I miss anything about sports, it is the camaraderie of old teammates.”  – Bo Jackson, former Major Leagues Baseball and National Football League superstar.  “Bo Knows.”
  • CONSUMMATE:  Finish what you start.  See it through.  “One worthwhile task finished to conclusion is better than 50 half-finished tasks.”  B.C. Forbes, founder of “Forbes” magazine

Saint Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) humbly offered “None of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful.” This clause is a perfect segue to a statement from American champion of the disabled, Helen Keller, who said, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”  Both passages speak loudly to the core of this narrative.

Belonging to a team, be it work or play, can be a rewarding experience. When everyone does their part, pulls in the same direction and remains unselfishly focused on a common goal amazing things happen. In the words of French politician, Jean-François Copé, “Don’t pass an opportunity to contribute and choose teamwork over personal ambition.”

Before he passed away at age 14, American poet, Mattie Stepanak, noted “Unity is strength; when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.”  Over a century earlier, American novelist, Louisa May Alcott, strummed the same chord writing “It takes two flints to make a fire.”  Thoughts to always channel when navigating the complexities of the Second Fifty.

This blog entry is dedicated to all the tremendous teams I have been a part of over the years.  Most recently, those who serve with me on the Ministry of Defense Advisors (MoDA) Training Program.  Together, we have accomplished much! 

The title of this blog entry is a paraphrase from a quote by National Basketball Association Hall of Famer, Michael Jordan, who said “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”  A player known just as much for his enormous talent and skill as for his unselfish approach to teamwork.  A player who elevated those around him to greatness. 

“Let’s Do It”

According to the esteemed writer, Henry David Thoreau, “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.” America’s most prolific President, Theodore Roosevelt, seconded Thoreau’s pondering, tempered with a word of modest caution, noting “Be practical as well as generous in your ideals. Keep your eyes on the stars, but remember to keep your feet on the ground.” Beguiling prose for sure from the two literary intellects; sort of a 19th Century way of saying set your goals, mollify each with realistic expectation when necessary and attain them.

I am, and always have been, a goal setter. For me, I find establishing objectives a catalyst for self-motivation and a mechanism of self-discipline. Ask me to do something and I will procrastinate and drag my feet. I will ultimately complete the task; mind you, – I am nothing, if not responsible – but more times than not, on my timetable (as she is reading this I can imagine my wife sarcastically saying aloud “Really, I never noticed!)  Let me establish a goal, however, and like the late Muhammad Ali, who said “What keeps me going is goals”, I will stop at nothing to ensure its completion.

Over the years I have discovered that challenging myself on a continual basis has been the impetus behind any success I have achieved. Setting goals and establishing performance benchmarks always serves as the propellant I require in any quest for accomplishment. Russian literary critic, Vissarion Belinsky, proffered “Without a goal there is no interest and without activity there is no life.” I have certainly found this assertion to be true. Setting goals keeps me mentally and physically buoyant and in doing so, embellishes my quality of life.

Over 150 years ago, industrialist and philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, noted “If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy and inspires your hopes.” To the great steel magnate’s statement I would add “challenge your abilities.” Many people – myself included early in my life – are intimidated by the specter of failure and succumbing to their fear, avoid goal setting altogether or establish safe, easily obtainable objectives. If you find yourself among this cautious cadre I offer this warning from Michelangelo, an artist, sculptor and poet of unparalleled influence: “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”

Renowned German composer and pianist, Ludwig van Beethoven remarked “The barriers are not erected which can say to aspiring talents and industry “Thus far and no farther.”   An observation made more compelling given the virtuoso crafted some of his most admired works after becoming almost completely deaf. Suffice to say in doing so, the great composer overcame many obstacles in the successful pursuit of his goals. Booker T. Washington, the former slave who became a dominant educator and orator, noted, “You measure the size of the accomplishment by the obstacles you have to overcome to reach your goals.” Strive to be like Herr Beethoven and Mr. Washington.

Of course merely setting a goal is only half the quotient. Meeting the target is for many, the most onerous part of the equation. The legendary Spanish artist, Pablo Picasso, heeded “Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.” The Andalusian Master is correct of course, a plan is a vital component when charting a course towards creating and meeting goals.  In the words of French writer, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

For me, the SMART process has always worked well:

S – Specific: Be clear and unambiguous when setting your goal. Don’t leave room for guessing.

M – Measurable: Set a goal that allows you measurement toward your goals progress.

A – Attainable: Ask yourself, “Is this realistic and attainable?” If not, back to the drawing board.

R – Relevant: Create a goal with importance and meaning. Make sure the effort is worth it to you.

T – Time-bound: Commit to a deadline. Open-ended goals tend to go forgotten

As most of you likely already know, SMART process or no SMART process, there are no guarantees that goals will be met regardless of their modesty or complexity. When setback does occur, I offer the following from the 19th Century German writer and statesman, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “Everything is hard before it is easy.” And in those particularly disappointing situations, you can always refer to my mainstay, poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, who offered the following erudite succor “Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.”

Don’t allow trepidation and the fear of failing to impede your desire to set and achieve goals.  American philosophy giant, William James, prescribed “Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action.” I will add never knowing cowers in the shadow of never trying.  And for good measure, in the words of rapper and film actor, LL Cool J, “Stay focused, go after your dreams and keep moving toward your goals.”

I opened with a quote from the master of prose and essay, Henry David Thoreau, so it is only fitting that I look to him again as I close out this missive. Remember as you go about setting your goals, fear not the critic or those quick to point out your failings or shortcomings. For, as Thoreau bitingly noted “The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise.”

Esteemed author C.S. Lewis wrote “You are never too old to set a new goal or to dream a new dream.” Sage words of wisdom for the Second Fifty.

Props to any of you who realized I lifted the title of this week’s blog entry from the opening line of rapper, Tone Lōc’s, 1989 smash hit “Wild Thing.” What? You are lucky I did not quote Vanilla Ice’s “Ice, Ice Baby.” Yo, V.I.P…Word to your Motha…Rollin’ in my 5.0…

 

“To Teach is to Learn Twice”

Malala Yousafzai, a female Pakistani and youngest Nobel Prize laureate, proclaimed “Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world.” The defiance of this brave activist’s statement has resonated with me since I first read the passage several months ago.

My fondness for Ms. Yousafzai and her compelling message is partly motivated by my admiration for those courageous souls who bravely stand up to oppression (The Founders and MLK to name a few.) It is also stimulated to some degree by my steadfast affinity for those who teach, those who mentor and those who inspire others to be the best they can.

For me, there is no greater calling than that of one who molds the lives of others. Whether this is formally, as a teacher, or informally as a mentor remains inconsequential to me. It is the result that matters, not the means. My nominee for America’s greatest essayists, the 19th Century poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, pierced the marrow of this conclusion when he remarked “Our chief want in life is somebody who will make us do what we can.”

Another esteemed American wordsmith, Henry Brooks Adams, lionized those who touch the lives of others, writing “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” Words that convincingly form a most fitting epitaph from my perspective. Any achievement or accomplishment that has come my way over the years can be traced back in large degree to those who took the time to teach and mentor me.

Throughout the span of my life there have been many. Each of them embracing a belief former United Kingdom Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, espoused: “The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own.”

I read once, not sure where, that a teacher takes a hand, opens a mind and touches a heart. What a beautiful statement. More so, what an indubitable affidavit. The teachers that touched my heart did so with permanence that has remained with me for my entire life. When I think of the impact they have had on my life I am reminded of a phrase attributed to Alexander the Great – himself taught by none other than the Greek ancient philosopher, Aristotle:-“I am indebted to my father for living, but to my teacher for living well.”

This is the same with the mentors that touched my life. The British hero of World War II, Sir Winston Churchill, proclaimed “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” Ghanaian philosopher, Lailah Gifty Akita, was even more precise in her proclamation noting “Every great achiever is inspired by a great mentor.” Not saying I am a great achiever but over the years I have been blessed with the support and guidance of great mentors.

The poet, Robert Frost, claimed “I am not a teacher, I am an awakener,”   I find this subtle passage strikingly keen in its announcement of what teachers – or mentors – actually attain as a product of their efforts. Throughout my life, the really effective teachers and mentors that touched my life did just as the poet insisted: They exposed me to that which I already possessed. They cultivated my suppressed ambitions and in some cases challenged me to expand my horizons. In doing so, they proved time and again the sagacity of Italian astronomer, Galileo’s, insistence that “You cannot teach a man anything.  You can only help him discover it within himself”

The University of Alabama’s legendary football coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant, once noted “The idea of molding men means a lot to me.” This is a simple and quite low-key remark that takes on epic proportion when placed in the context of his tremendous success mentoring young men to greatness over his remarkable career. It also underscores in volumes the motivation most teachers and mentors feel as they approach their roles. Except for commanding, mentoring was the most rewarding experience of my military career. Post-Army, mentoring still remains a pivotal element of my well-being; providing contentment and a sense of purpose.

Over 2,000 years ago, the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle noted “Those who know, do. Those that understand, teach.” Not surprising, his teacher, Plato, echoed essentially the same acknowledgement: “Those who don’t know must learn from those who do.” Both phrases emphasize the importance of what teachers do and why they do it. A tandem of absolutes anyone who has benefitted from the attention, support or guidance of a teacher or mentor needs not be reminded.

Teachers and mentors come in all shapes and sizes. Some trained with protocol in the classroom; others informally shaped by experiences and travails. They can be young and old; rich and poor. Demographics are not a discriminator. One only needs to possess the willingness and ability to make a difference in others. In doing so, one will reap dividends for themselves as well. An embodiment of rock musician, Phil Collins’, lyric “In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn.”

According to Cuban humanitarian and author Jorge Armando Pérez Venâncio, “El mentor es motivado por el amor” (“Mentoring is motivated by love.”) The 19th Century Swiss moral philosopher, Henri Frédéric Amiel, offered “To know how to suggest is the great art of teaching.” If you possess either the emotion or the ability I encourage you to strive to make a difference in the lives of others. If you are doing this already, you have my respect. If not, I beseech you to begin.

One of America’s greatest inspirational writers, William Arthur Ward, once penned “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires” In your Second Fifty, be that “great teacher…or mentor.’

The weblog entry title is a quote borrowed from 18th Century French essayist, Joseph Joubert. 

This is dedicated to all the great teachers and mentors who have touched my life.  There have been many.  And, just as much, to those on the opposite side who  allowed me to touch theirs. 

“Can’t Live Without Passion”

Early 20th Century French novelist and playwright, Émile Zola famously scrawled “I would rather die of passion than of boredom.” Admittedly, a somewhat macabre statement, it is nevertheless one that perfectly captures the crux of this week’s weblog entry. For me, passion is the strongest of all emotions; compelling enthusiasm allowing those who possess it to achieve limitless bounties of life.  According to 18th Century German philosopher, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, “Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion.”

Speaking to the masses with the fervent ardor born of experience, American abolitionist, the former slave, Harriet Tubman, proclaimed “Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” While the former two characteristics are critical to the pursuit of achievement, passion is the attribute that best fires one’s zeal for accomplishment. The most successful people I have ever met all shared one common denominator: Boundless passion for the endeavor in which they excelled.

Passion is also many times the great equalizer. A virtuous quality that allows some to ultimately overcome otherwise hindering shortcomings. This is a palpable reality underscored by French philosopher, Albert Camus’s, passage “There is scarcely any passion without struggle.” Examples of those who leveraged passion to conquer adversity and are ample and commonplace.

While he certainly had talent, it was more, passion that allowed diminutive 5’3”Muggsy Bogus to play 14 productive years in the National Basketball Association; a league in which the average player stands a towering 6’7”! It was also passion more than skill that allowed former New York Yankee, Jim Abbott, pitch 10 years in Major League Baseball despite being born without a right hand.

And, it is passion – together with fearless determination and revolutionary advancements in prosthetics – that drives military amputees to overcome debilitating battlefield injuries, remain in uniform, and serve in combat time and again. To the last group especially, I am reminded of a comment by author Callum Illman, “Life will only have a meaning once you’ve achieved to find your true passion…within the limitless boundaries of destiny”

Though rare, I have encountered the occasional person who wistfully lacks passion altogether or just as dismally, cannot even comprehend the attribute or its importance. English social critic and poet, T.S. Eliot likely had those doleful individuals in mind when he penned this stanza, “It is obvious that we can no more explain a passion to a person who has never experienced it than we can explain light to the blind.”

If you find yourself in this group please seek out and embrace something that stirs some passion within you and grasp it. I am not talking a monumental activity or life altering calling here (I am not discouraging it either, mind you.)  Something as simple as a new hobby or a decision to volunteer at a community shelter or local hospital will suffice quite nicely. If you do this, I promise you will reap positive dividends. Your life will personify what another British poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson, felt when he penned the following strophe, “The happiness of a man in this life does not consist in the absence but on the mastery of his passions.”

At the start of his meteoric rise to fame in 1955, the “King of Rock and Roll”, Elvis Presley, noted “Ambition is a dream with a V-8 engine.” What this statement lacks in sophistication, it delivers in veracity. Dreams fuel ambition which in turn, fuel passion. An immigrant’s dream to come to the United States in search of a better life serves as the catalyst providing the ambition to make it happen. Actually achieving a better life, doing what is necessary to succeed is a by-product of passion; making the seemingly impossible a possibility. As Nelson Mandela once said “There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

The charismatic French military and political legend, Emperor Napoléon Bonaparte, offered that “Great ambition is the passion of a great character.” This is a powerful quote that epitomizes the gist of people who have flourished in life. It is surely true of those I have served with in my career or have rubbed elbows with during my life.

One of my subalternes (please excuse my homage to Monsieur Bonaparte here), Fatah Jabarkhail, is a fitting example. Fatah, an immigrant from Afghanistan, is the language and culture director for the Department of Defense (DoD) training program I manage. He brings a degree of passion to the mission that inspires everyone within his sphere. It is no accident that our students – senior DoD civilians – routinely single out the instructional programs Fatah manages as the best portions of the seven week course. French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sarte, wrote “We must act out passion before we can feel it”; a credo Fatah understands and symbolizes.

Ok, I have spent 10 paragraphs extolling the many virtues of injecting passion into one’s life as a means of fostering success. In fairness, I cannot break contact now without at least offering a cautionary word regarding the fine line that exists between passion and overzealousness. In this regard, I humbly punt to the American Colonial sage, Benjamin Franklin, who warned “If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins.” Bottom line: Do not override intellect and intuition by following your heart.

Renowned Italian film director, the legendary Federico Fellini, asserted “There is no end. There is no beginning. There is only PASSION of life.” This is more important in the Second Fifty than it ever was in the First. 

Kudos to those of you who recognized my blog entry title is actually a lyric borrowed from music legend Rod Stewart’s 1980 hit song, “Passion.”

“Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way”

The 6th President of the United States, John Quincy Adams, once proclaimed “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” Over 150 years later, the 40th President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, remarked “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.”

Given that for over 31 years I served in the US Army – 27 of those years as an officer – it stands to reason I view leadership as a critical trait. Thru that prism, in fact, it is a foremost characteristic; an element critical for propelling one down the pathway of achievement.

If I crafted a tableau portraying the essential attributes necessary to achieve success in all endeavors, personal and professional, I would position leadership as the nucleus of the image. In this regard, I staunchly adhere to an observation President John F. Kennedy made over 60 years ago: “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”

In the long course of my life, by far, the most rewarding compliment ever levied my way remains being described as a “great Dad.” Frankly, I cannot imagine a more valuable eulogy. This treasured platitude aside, being called a “great leader” is an acknowledgement of almost similar regard and one I cherish with comparable revere. Both are accolades I prize with equal pride.

My approach to the art of leadership has always mirrored a passage my favorite poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, penned over a century and a half ago, “Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.” The former First Lady, Rosalynn Carter, recognized this connection as well, noting “A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.”

Experience has taught me that most people at some point in time want to be led, seek guidance, look for direction, desire advice, invite counsel; require assuredness or a simple pat on the back. This holds true for leaders just as it does for followers. For the ancient Greek Aristotle noted, “He who cannot be a good follower cannot be a good leader. “

In my lengthy professional career, the finest boss I ever had, Army Colonel John Twohig, was one such leader. Time and again I saw him motivate subordinates – yours truly included – to levels of accomplishment far beyond what many thought possible. He created a culture that drove us to succeed because we respected him; not because we feared his wrath should we fail.

Colonel Twohig listened to our ideas, followed our recommendations when prudent, and when not, led by example; literally, if necessary. He was never above doing a task he would require a subordinate to tackle. The 15th Century Italian philosopher, Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli, proclaimed viva voce “He who wishes to be obeyed must know how to command.” US Army Colonel (Retired) John Twohig knew how to command and he knew how to lead.

Real leadership is a mash-up of a number of crucial qualities. Among these pivotal virtues, respect, empathy, compassion, humility and a myriad of other attractive characteristics are most necessary. Inspirational speaker, Israelmore Avivor, noted “Leadership is defined by the virtues of one’s behavior.” Effective leaders possess these qualities. Poor leaders wish they did or are oblivious to their shortcomings.

Leaders must also possess and adhere to the same canon of principles they require of those they lead. The man who made the brand McDonalds and the phrase “fast food” staples of the world’s lexicon, the visionary, Ray Kroc, noted “The quality of a leader is reflective of the standards they set for themselves.” I have found this to be an incredibly accurate observation. By far, the worst leadership I ever experienced was under the hand of those dodgy bosses with “do as I say, not as I do” mantras.

Leadership has no biases. Anyone, young, old, rich, poor, male female, child or adult, can be a leader. The devastation caused by the recent spate of hurricanes bears this out. Regular people of every gender, age, income level and any other quantifying demographic stepped forward in the face of great adversity and led relief efforts with a common goal: Helping others. In doing so, they emphasize aloud, Nigerian writer, Ifeanyi Enoch Onuoha’s, declaration “Leadership is never an avenue to be self-serving but a platform to render great service to people.” More dramatically, their performance personifies a Napoléon Bonaparte tenet, “A leader is a dealer in hope.”

I am optimistically enlivened when I witness young leaders in action. Foremost, my children who possess many of the qualities I noted earlier and in their own unique style, have exhibited leadership traits. Allison, owner of her own day care business, Rachel, an Army Captain, and Jenna, a former Fulbright Scholar and current graduate teaching assistant, reveal their leadership tendencies overtly. The remaining two, Jasmine and Grant, exhibit similar traits in a less demonstrable and more subtle way. Regardless of the approach, the quintet has shown on numerous occasional the ability to lead when required. This parent could not hope for anything more.

Aside from my family, there have been other refreshing opportunities to view young leaders in action. Two in particular are my fellow co-workers, Nancy Labra-Gomez and Bojana Andrejevich. The former, a logistics manager, and the latter, my deputy, are both young millennial women who lead by example and with great effect. When I witness them in action, I am reminded of a Kathy Calvin, CEO of the United Nations Foundation, belief, “Young people aren’t the leaders of tomorrow. They are the leaders of today and tomorrow.”

President Barack Obama once stated that “Leadership is about deeds, not words.” There is no better example of this declaration than Mother Theresa; a lifetime of actions in support of others.  The venerated Catholic nun and leaders like her exemplify the message 13th Century Italian friar, Francis of Assisi, stressed when he wrote “The deeds you do may be the only sermon some persons will hear today.”

But while I agree you cannot overstate the visual impact of one leading by doing, I still believe it is possible to provide stirring leadership thru words alone. King George VI’s uplifting radio messages to the citizens of Great Britain during the darkest hours of World War II is a perfect example of one inspiring others with just verbal uplift. My point is, don’t discount the importance of words. (Though some gifted leaders do have the ability to do both: President Theodore Roosevelt and Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. come to mind.)

I could pontificate on the topic of leadership for hours so keen is my respect for its value as an overarching life quality. However, as the esteemed German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, pledged, “It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book” so it is my vow as well (a covenant I fear I have failed to uphold.) So, I must be cracking on.

In the Second Fifty, when required, follow, and when you must, lead. And, in the words of NBA Hall of Famer, Michael Jordan, “Earn your leadership every day.  

This blog is dedicated to all the amazing leaders who have touched my life, personally and professionally.

The quote I used as a title was uttered by Thomas Paine, English-American political activist, author, political theorist and most importantly, a major Colonial influence at the start of the American Revolution. World War II legend, General George S. Patton, also used a version of this passage, but one laced with a salty adjective or two.

 

“I Will Study and Get Ready, and Perhaps My Chance Will Come”

The esteemed leader of the Indian Civil Rights Movement, Mahatma Gandhi, sagely prescribed for the ages, “Live as if you will die tomorrow. Learn as if you will live forever.” As I mature, the probity of this advice rings louder and with more validity. Over the years, my zest to learn and expand my intellectual horizons has intensified with each passing year. To that end, I fully embrace the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, who declared “Education is the best provision for old age.”

The road I traversed on my journey to higher learning was not direct or expedient; being much more circuitous and very deliberate in pace. (Think the tortoise on a serpentine road course more than the hare on a straight away.) Graduating from high school in 1977, I possessed neither the money nor the grades to attend college.

Never an industrious student while toiling through 1st – 12th grades (for all of you non-Baby Boomers reading this, kindergarten was not a requirement back in the day), I did manage to rally my senior year but by then the damage to my GPA had been done. I was left with the remorse one acknowledges upon realizing what could have been achieved had earlier endeavor been equal to later commitment. Alas, we live and learn; or, as German philosopher, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, asserted “By seeking and blundering we learn.”

While departing high school sans the pedigree of a hearty formal education, I was fortunately learned. Having read hundreds of books during study halls I opted to take instead of traditional classes provided me with knowledge and understanding of a diverse portfolio of topics and most importantly, a keen desire to learn more.

Over time, I became determined to overcome the foibles of my high school experience by testing the reality of Leonardo da Vinci’s claim that “Learning never exhausts the mind.” More directly, I decided to embrace the 2nd First Lady of the United States, Abigail Adams’ contention “Learning is not attained by chance; it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.”

Ironically, the Army proved to be my springboard to higher academia. My service in uniform provided:

  1. The money – thanks G.I Bill,
  2. The incentive – graduation from Officer Candidate School and commissioning as a Second Lieutenant required an undergraduate degree
  3. The opportunity – military leadership cultivates educational excellence and progress

This allowed me to rectify the scholastic shortfalls of my youth. I was inspired to learn and with vigor to embrace the mantra of South African leader, Nelson Mandela: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

I clutched the opportunity for college in a bear hug and refused to let go. I was determined to make up for lost time and atone for squandered chances. Over two thousand years ago, the Greek philosopher, Plutarch noted “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.”

Not to be out done, two centuries later, the Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, said essentially the same thing, perhaps more eloquently, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”  (Begging the question, is it still plagiarism if the perp is an esteemed essayists???)   I was ready to light the fire.

When I ultimately graduated from college I earned the honor of being the first member in my ENTIRE family tree to achieve this academic distinction. I held this banner for several years until my children, first my oldest daughter, Allison, then Rachel and Jenna, and a few second cousins joined the ranks several years later.

When I earned my Master’s Degree, I again elevated my standing and remained there alone for a few years until Rachel joined ranks with me last year. The aforementioned Jenna is close behind us and is on a trajectory to someday earn the vaunted Ph.D.   The three of us embrace the great English-American political activist, Thomas Paine’s credo, “The mind once enlightened cannot again become dark.”

The 20th Century civil rights activist, Malcolm X, once noted “Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.”  I could not agree more. The value I place on education cannot be overstated. Every day I provoke myself to learn something new. This blog is, in essence, a manifestation of this self-challenge. I firmly believe the words of Russian playwright, Anton Chekov, who wrote “Wisdom comes not from age, but from education and learning.”

I ask all of you to continue the pursuit for knowledge. It does not have to be in the formal setting of a classroom – truth be known most of the  significant lessons I learned over the last 58 years happened far away from academia. You can expand your educational horizons as distant from the classroom as you can within its close proximity. It is up to you.  At the risk of sounding like a cliché, some of the smartest people I have ever met lacked a robust formal education.

The willingness to learn is only governed by the one’s desire. The 17th Century Dutch philosopher, Baruch Spinoza, wrote “The highest activity a human being can attain is learning for understanding, because to understand is to be free.”  Always learn and always strive to be free.

In the Second Fifty, NEVER stop learning. You owe it to yourself. Because as the English playwright Oscar Wilde noted, “You can never be overdressed or overeducated.”

This blog entry is dedicated to US Army Command Sergeant Major Retired, Dr. Mack Vereen. My first mentor, CSM Vereen was my basic training drill sergeant and the person most responsible for molding me into the military leader I became. CSM Vereen retired as the Command Sergeant Major of the US Army Infantry School. I was in good hands. As he would always introduce himself to us: “Bravo Company, have no fear. Rock of the Marne is here. Black, and in OD Green.”

The quote I used for this entry’s title was uttered by Abraham Lincoln years before he became the 16th President of the United States.

 

“All You Need is Love, Love is All You Need”

 

The 19th Century French poet and novelist, Victor Marie Hugo, once declared “To love another person is to see the face of God.” His literary countrywoman of the same Romantic Movement period, writer, George Sand, pondered, “There is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved.”

Love is arguably the greatest and most pervasive of all human drives. According to anthropologist, Helen Fisher, “Romantic love is not an emotion; it’s a drive. It comes from the wanting part of the mind, the craving part.” As French writer, Stendahl, noted, “Love is like a fever; it comes and goes quite independently of the will.”

For me, love was realized at a very early age. I was blessed with parents, especially a Mom, who showered me with affection, concern and attention every day without pause. Looking back over the 58 years of my life, although I have slipped, stumbled and fell in a number of romantic encounters, I have never once gone to bed without the knowledge I was loved by at least two  people in my life; my Mom and Dad.

Regardless of my misstep or screw up, they have always been there for me. Lifting me up, dusting me off, patting me on the back and lovingly encouraging me to move forward, convincing me to learn from mistakes, and imploring their son to never look back. French playwright, Honoré de Balzac, wrote “The heart of a mother is a deep abyss at the bottom of which you will always find forgiveness.” Jeanette Reynolds fits this mold.

For my Dad, while true it wasn’t until I deployed to my first war, Operation Desert Storm, in 1990, that I can remember him actually saying he loved me, he demonstrated his love in action and deeds long before then. More importantly, in the decades since he has overly compensated for earlier failures of acknowledgement and now we never break a conversation without an exchange of those three hallowed words.

Monsieur de Balzac also offered that “Love is the poetry of the senses.” An observation I view as keenly apodictic as it is encompassing. Experiencing real love allows us to transcend the boundaries of our faculties and sensibilities; it enhances our sentience; it allows us to view our lives thru an altered pinhole with bodhi and contentment. In the words of the late writer, Robert Heinlein, “Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.”

Bestowing love on another provides an equally fruitful awareness.  In honesty, I think demonstrating love is an even more critical need for me. I gain much more from giving love than I do from getting it return.  That is not to say I do not relish hearing the phrase “I Love You” whispered in my direction by my wife, Kate, nor appreciate the emotional uplift gained via the knowledge I am loved by family and friends alike. While those absolutes are critical to my emotional well being, I truly subscribe to that offered by the 13th Century Muslim mystic, Rumi, who wrote: “Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.”

Getting back to my wife, Kate, I cannot imagine being loved anymore by one person. She truly personifies the word and in doing so, elevates my well being and my psyche. My quality of life is remarkably enhanced with the knowledge that this incredible woman is in my life; that she loves me above all others is uncontestable, that the relentless affection and emotive soothing she showers me with is a tonic to cure all my ills and worries.

When I think of our life together, a passage from writer, Charlotte Brontë’s, literary masterpiece, “Jane Eyre” comes to mind: “I know what it is to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth. I hold myself supremely blest — blest beyond what language can express; because I am my husband’s life as fully as he is mine.”  Looking at our relationship, this passage from 11th Century nun, Héloïse d’Argenteuil to her lover and mentor, Pierre Abélard, resonates: “For not with me was my heart, but with thee. But now, more than ever, if it be not with thee, it is nowhere. For without thee it cannot anywhere exist.”

I am equally blessed in that I have always known the love of family; parents, siblings, children and grandkids. Spanish philosopher, George Santayana, wrote “The family is one of nature’s masterpieces.” To which, my postscript would read: The love of which cultivates a happy and therefore healthy life.

The same holds true for friends. The love sprung from deep friendship is a vital ingredient in the soufflé of emotions contributing to a hearty and robust life. Admittedly, I do not count many among my coterie of close friends, but the few I can tally provide contentment; spark my enthusiasms; encourage my pursuits (that I am even writing this blog is attributable to the inspiration of my wonderfully close friend, Bojana Andrejevic). According to British philosopher, Bertrand Russell, “The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge.” Knowing I am loved is a constant reminder I live a good life.

While being loved is a fundamental element of a healthy life, I firmly believe demonstrating and possessing love is an even more integral component. The great Post-Impressionist painter, Vincent van Gogh, noted “I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.” I could not agree more with the Dutch Master. (Although I must caveat that though I love family and friends, the older I get, the more difficult it becomes to embrace universal love of all. Thus, I remain a work in progress.)

This narrative is wordier than I anticipated and I must get cracking on. Before I go, however, I will leave you with several quotes that best capture the essence of my thoughts. First up, this perceptive assertion from the sagacious French philosopher, Voltaire, “Love is a canvas furnished by nature and embroidered by imagination.”

Following, in no particular order of preference:

“If I had a flower for every time I thought of you…I could walk through my garden forever.” English poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson

“Love does not consist of gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.” French journalist, Antoine Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger, comte de Saint-Exupéry

“I love you and that’s the beginning and end of everything.” American author, F. Scott Fitzgerald

“If music be the food of love, play on.” English poet and playwright, Sir William Shakespeare

“Let us always meet each other with smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.” Mother Teresa

“I am in you and you in me, mutual in divine love” English poet, William Blake

“Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead.” British poet and author, Oscar Wilde

האהובה שלי היא שלי   (“I am my beloved’s, my beloved is mine”) Song of Solomon 6:3

Love and be loved; now more than ever because“Life does not end at the Half Century mark. It actually BEGINS at the Second Fifty.”

The title of this web blog entry is from the Beatles 1967 hit record, “All You Need is Love.”

“Doing the Hard Right”

 

American architect and author, R. Buckminister Fuller, decreed “Integrity is the essence of everything successful.”  This is a claim that from my personal experiences and the careful observation of others, I feel to be decidedly irrefutable.  I have met very few deceitful people who have achieved any degree of success – achievement measured how one is viewed by others and not by the size of a bank account or the accumulation of material goods – and comparatively, I know of many forthright individuals who by word and deed have earned the respect and admiration of all whose paths they have crossed.

In my professional life I have been blessed to serve with a number of leaders who were principled, virtuous and managed with a level of straightforwardness that motivated those around them to perform and achieve at levels far beyond what could have been expected. Sadly, I have also served with a small minority of senior officers who have approached leadership from the opposite end of the spectrum and not surprisingly these experiences were neither enjoyable for me nor fruitful for them.

Almost 3,000 years ago, Persian philosopher, Heraclitus, observed “Your integrity determines your destiny.” I have been amazed at the number of educated and informed people who have failed to realize the soundness of this ancient counsel. People who sadly abandon personal honesty to achieve fleeting gain or avoid responsibility or blame for bad decisions; oblivious of the cost of these actions to their credibility and standing. I can only conclude that some people just don’t care while another cluster of individuals are just clueless to the impacts of this behavior. Regardless, these shortcomings stand as profound indictments seriously undermining any other existing quality or characteristic.

Nigerian author, Chinua Achebe, noted “One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised.” Refusing to bend one’s personal honesty in the face of overwhelming pressure to do so is a tremendously difficult task. While I would like to say I have never wavered in the face of such burden, alas, I cannot make that claim.

During those few times, a slight compromise of my integrity seemed a small price to pay to avoid embarrassment or accepting responsibility for an ill-conceived or poorly executed task. In retrospect, though, I lost much more than I gained. As I reflect, being able to recover from the blight of these mistakes is small recompense for the personal disappointment I brought upon myself.   But, we live and if we are smart, we learn.

The 16th Century English philosopher, Sir Francis Bacon, scribed “It’s not what we profess in public, but where we walk and what we practice in secret that gives us integrity” Three hundred years later, another British intellectual, novelist and poet, C. S. Lewis, penned a similar observation: “Integrity is doing the right thing, when no one else is looking.” This guiding principle is so very true and from my perspective, one that is most universally ignored. Imagine if we held our politicians – of every ilk and party – to just this one standard. Life for all of us would much better. A forlorn hope, perhaps, but maintaining the standard begins with us and best case, extends through our individual spheres of influence. Change can occur.

French writer, Albert Camus, emphatically stated “Integrity has no need of rules.” Though some may find this discernment naively idealistic, I read it as very much a truism. I experienced this first hand in 2007 while serving in Iraq. A town official I advised embraced an initiative critical to US and Coalition efforts but one that was viewed, not surprisingly, as quite baleful to local insurgents who were brutally terrorizing the local populace. Ignoring death threats and other forms of intimidation, this young village leader, governed by personal courage and moral integrity, made a decision that secured the safety of his town but ultimately cost him his life; assassinated by terrorists for his brave decision.

There was no rule that guided this gallant leader’s decision, just integrity. He embodied perfectly, the essence of Jamaican nationalist, Marcus Garvey’s, declaration “The ends you serve that are selfish will take you no further than yourself but the ends you serve that are for all, in common, will take you into eternity.” The young Iraqi’s selfless sacrifice, a powerful recollection I will carry with me forever.

The former slave who became one of America’s leading orators of the 19th Century, Frederick Douglass, proclaimed with defiance, “I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.” Though I had a few missteps in my first half century of life, I have pledged my integrity will remain intact and I will be true to myself in The Second Fifty.

  

“In Service of Others”

        

Several years ago the US Army had a commercial containing a tag line that I found quite inspiring.  Following a montage of contemporary military photos, the narrator voice-over proclaims “One day they may be asked what they did to make a difference in this world; they can respond: I became a Soldier.”

When I saw this for the first time I was overcome with an immense sense of pride.  In the matter of a few seconds my entire 31 year career in uniform passed by me as a vindication of good deeds done; of lives touched; of actions that delivered a positive result. The stirring phrase validated for me a belief I long time thought to be true: In both war and peace, I did my part to improve the world.

Indian civil rights leader, Mahatma Gandhi noted “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”  Not surprisingly, the person viewed by many as the “American Gandhi”, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., made a similar and equally persuasive proclamation:  “The most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others.”  These challenges were directed at the masses writ large and not to selected demographic groups; each, an ardent invocation compelling common people to seize the moment and take action.

Though I answered the call to action by joining the Army – however, as a young boy I did briefly toy with idea of being a priest (how many of you just exclaimed “No way!”) – I have met, served with and read about millions of ordinary people who touch the lives of others in positive ways on a routine basis. The large majority help those around them with silent and unassuming diligence and fierce determination.

While teachers, police officers, doctors, nurses, health care workers and similar professionals are the most recognizable doers of good deeds, it is the average person – those that Gandhi and Reverend King spoke to with the eloquent pleas – that are the most pervasive “Good Samaritans.”

Looking within the ranks of those who make the world a better place is like peering into a kaleidoscope. You will see young and old, adult and child, rich and poor, straight and gay; people of every shade and hue; folks of every religious preference, believers and non-believers alike; you will find liberals and conservatives, Democrats, Republicans and Independents. These are just everyday people sharing one common purpose and perhaps a mutual understanding of 19th Century orator, Robert Ingersoll’s declaration “We rise by lifting others.”

While tragedies usually provide the canvas on which the exploits of these ordinary humanitarians can be most effectively painted, the good work is being done 24/7. Wherever a need exists you will find these unsung heroes. There is the Pennsylvania great-grandmother who unselfishly gives of her time at a local retirement community, devotedly filling a familial void for many who sadly, need it. She embodies the sentiment of Holocaust victim, Anne Frank, who wrote, ”You can always, always give something, even if it is only kindness.”

There is the university undergrad who faithfully found the time in an arduous academic schedule to tirelessly work to improve the education opportunities, and ultimately lives, of immigrant adolescents in rural Alabama. The late Muhammad Ali, who claimed “”Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth” would have likely approved of her efforts.

There is the Serbian immigrant who somehow finds the time in a cruelly demanding work schedule to teach ESL classes to young children within her DC community. She wants to make a difference in the world and realizes that starts at home; her American home. Perhaps an embodiment of Albert Einstein’s edict “Only a life lived in the service of others is worth living.”

Finally, there is the wife and mother in Georgia who always has time for those in need. Whether befriending strangers she arbitrarily meets, helping a neighbor with a cruel and incurable disease, volunteering to meet the needs of the families of deployed soldiers or just wanting to care for babies who need care, she is always ready. She recently told me a comment the late film legend Audrey Hepburn once made: “As you grow older you will discover you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.” How fitting.

All of these very real and very ordinary but disparate people are bound by one common thread permeating the fiber of their bodies. The understanding that the 19th Century English author Charles Dickens was spot on when he acknowledged “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of another.”

As for me, the old soldier, I head into my waning days confident that despite three wars and seven years deployed to combat zones, the large portion of my contribution to the world’s endstate were life enhancing, not ending. The pictures I include in this blog best describe what I mean. In that regard, I fully embrace American author, Andrew Bigelow Pine, who wrote “What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world remains and is immortal.”

I mentioned in a previous blog that Ralph Waldo Emerson is my favorite poet. As such, I leave you with I think is his most beautiful prose: “The purpose of life is not to be happy.  It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”  My request of you, constant reader, be honorable, be compassionate and above all, make a difference in the world!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7KcMRywpl

 

“R*E*S*P*E*C*T”

The ancient esteemed Greek philosopher, Aristotle, offered the following hypohora: “What is the essence of life? To serve others and do good.” Some two thousand years later, an equally sage and astute person – my Mom – impressed upon me a similar mandate: “Always treat every person with respect, don’t look down on anyone and help those who need it.”

Admittedly, while not as prosaic nor rhetorical as Aristotle’s oration, Jeanette Reynolds’s edict was no less profound. I have carried her words with me my entire life. They have served me well both personally and in my professional endeavors.   The gift she bestowed on me during those early formative years of my life served as one of the initial building blocks, laying the foundation for the adult I became.

To my Mom’s proclamation, I added another guiding principle best stated by 19th Century American reformer, Henry Ward Beecher, who wrote “Hold yourself responsible for a higher standard than anybody expects of you. Never excuse yourself.” A lifetime of adhering to this passage has also proved beneficial to me and those whose paths I have crossed.

Gazing back across the decades of my existence while peering thru the aperture of experience and toil, I have come to realize that any success I have achieved in life has an unmistakable and very real correlation to how I have treated others. Rabbi Harold Kushner noted that “Being kind to others is a way of being kind to one’s self” and the veracity of this claim is an undeniable truism when I gaze into my life’s mirror. I have been a benefactor of my own kindness.

While some overt returns on my investment in kindness have been bestowed upon me, by far, the most gratifying rewards have been those I have realized internally; a sense of fulfillment not replicated by any other act or purpose. To be sure, I treat others with respect and dignity – regardless of race, creed and any other discriminator or lot in life – because it is the right thing to do but there is no denying I gain in return more than I give.

Being nice to others makes me feel better about myself, spiritually and emotionally and as such, physically. That I may be a better person is a matter of opinion but I certainly feel like a better human. In this regard, I fully agree with French moralist, Joseph Joubert, who noted, “Politeness is the flower of humanity.”

Treating everyone with a basic level of dignity also serves as a daily reminder to me to remain humble. For me it is the ultimate ego checker, steadfast as it is effective, serving as a constant and potent signifier to me throughout the years not to take myself too seriously. Nineteenth Century Swiss philosopher, Henri Frédéric Amiel, observed “There is no respect for others without humility in one’s self.” I could not accede more to this conviction.

A rather humbling experience happened to me recently – on my 58th birthday in fact – that reminded me of this; a gift bestowed upon me by the unlikeliest of people. On a work assignment, I had been stuck in a hotel for a few weeks. During this time I crossed paths with the maid, Rocío, on several occasions. Each time I greeted her with a smile and took a few minutes to chat. Though having to work thru a significant language barrier – Spanish being her first language and English, sadly, being my only – I was nonetheless able to find out much about her life.

Rocío shared with me she immigrated to the US from her native Colombia 16 years ago, alone with a small son and basically very little else. Working at same DC hotel since then, she was able to cobble out a modest life, put her son thru college and see him off to grad school.

In her broken English, Rocío was able to convey to me how grateful she and her son were for the opportunities the US provided her.  I told her of my admiration of immigrants and applauded her hard work and determination. At one point, the phrase “Thank you for living the American Dream” left my lips.

Back to my birthday, it fell on a Sunday and as such, I was in my room alone working when my Colombian friend came in to clean. During her time in my room, my parents called to wish me a “happy birthday”; a fact Rocío picked up on. Later that afternoon, I responded to a knock on my door to find her standing there clutching a pint of Häagen-Dazs ice cream and a small Hostess cake (both likely purchased from the hotel commissary at an exorbitant cost no doubt.) Presenting me both, Rocío smiled and said Feliz Cumpleaños!

This beautiful gesture from a beautiful person underscored perfectly the importance of my Mom’s guidance to me so long ago. Some 2,500 years ago, Greek fabulist, Aesop, wrote “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” These words are profoundly true.

I leave you with one last quote – because y’all know I love quotes! – I think fully captures the essence of what I tried to convey in the previous 850 words. The 18th Century British sculptor, John Bacon, opined “It comes down to the way you treat people. When you treat people with dignity and respect all the time, you can work through anything.” Amen to that.

I borrowed the title to this web blog entry from the 1965 Otis Reading song, “Respect.”  A great song made famous by Aretha Franklin. 

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