A Speck of Dust for Posterity
After Jay came to us with the brilliant idea for Out Digital Dust, we had some really good conversations about the purpose for this effort. One of the ideas we discussed is the ability to leave something (our digital Dust) for future generations of our families to give them insight into the people we are. We’ve all researched our genealogy to some degree and been frustrated by the fact that sometime we only have cold, faceless government records to describe our relatives. This post is in that vein. I’ve had dozens of opportunities to speak in front of large groups for my job. Unfortunately, my family has never heard one of those presentations. Here are my comments shared with my coworkers at a ceremony for Dr Martin Luther King this week. I hope they tell my kids and their kids, etc something about me as well
“The ultimate measure of a man is not what he stands for in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
I first heard this quote during an NCO leadership course at my first duty station in the Air Force. My instructor challenged me with this quote because I was mailing it in during the course. The requirements of the course were easy to me and I did the minimum required to meet them, but he saw potential for much more. This quote has resonated with me over and over again through the past four years in both my personal and professional life. Professionally, I’ve progressed through some pretty challenging and complex responsibilities and plenty of controversial decision points for me and others. There have been several times during the past four years when I wondered if the investment in my time, my physical well-being or the relationships that were impacted were worth the fight and I confided in trusted friends who gave me the support and advice I needed to tackle the challenge and controversy head on. Ultimately, it fell on me to decide how I would respond to those difficult times…with confidence or doubt, with combativeness or collaboration, with energy to complete the task or with wilting submission and resignation that would disappoint my teammates and friends. We rarely accomplish anything on our own—if we just look left and right there are always teammates to rely on. I know that from repeated and very recent experiences, but the decision, our choice, to act in the face of challenge and controversy is ours alone and how we respond impacts everyone around us in some way.
“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
Now this quote might seem a little odd for a discussion in a federal workplace at an event sponsored by lawyers. But it epitomizes the man Dr. King chose to be and the force he chose to wield against the enemy he faced. As a deeply spiritual man, Dr. King relied on his knowledge of the Scriptures to understand that the positive power of love, often described in terms or light versus darkness, always overcomes the negativity of hate or anger. So how does this apply to us here at NGA? We each have a choice to have a positive or negative attitude when we arrive at our places of work. This choice impacts how we tackle every decision, every action and every engagement we have during our day. I see too many examples where we use the precious power of our voice through quick jabs at new programs or snarky comments on a Graffiti Wall. Dr. King’s example shows us that we will accomplish great things by taking a positive approach to our work—negative or hateful attitudes simply create more work, more stress, more delays and divisiveness that increase our burdens.
“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
This is about perspective. We all walk through life facing our own individual challenges and concerns and it’s easy and tempting to immerse ourselves in what we need to get done to address those issues or advance our own cause. We do this as individuals and we do this as organizational entities. Throughout the agency, each layer down in our structure we narrow our mission perspective and define the tasks that we need to accomplish to close on our partners or boss’ priorities. Of course we should all work diligently to accomplish the tasks we’ve been given, but if we lose perspective of the larger effort—the agency’s mission and our nations need for us to evolve as a key cog in the national security apparatus—our accomplishments and the investments we make with taxpayer dollars is minimized and loses relevance. We have to exhibit the strength of character and confidence in our knowledge of our own capabilities to contribute to a higher cause which sometimes means setting aside our personal or organizational concerns or desires in order to accomplish something great that positively impacts the collective.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”
You may have noticed a theme throughout the discussion about the quotes by Dr. King. It all really comes down to a choice. We make these choices throughout our lives, sometimes with great thought and deliberation and other times on a whim or gut feeling. The choices always impact others in addition to ourselves, but the responsibility for the choice rests with us alone. This quote speaks to me about one of the most significant choices we make, but it’s often misinterpreted as a choice that is beyond our control. Clint Jones, a teacher from nearby Prince George’s county, gave an amazing TED talk about the danger of silence. In this talk, he notes that our voice is like our dignity. It cannot be taken away or stolen from us…we can only surrender it through ambivalence, desire to please others instead of speaking candidly, efforts to get along in order to get ahead so we don’t speak up. He describes silence as the residue of fear. Powerful words that shoot straight into our hearts and challenge our character when we sit back and “get by.” This isn’t a mandate to confront and combat things we don’t like; but it is a clarion call to challenge bad ideas, bad behavior or bad leadership so we can accomplish more for us all.