Friday, March 22, 2013

Courage: You Have a Voice–Use It or Lose It

My recent musings around Eastern Health, the c. difficile outbreak and my grandmother’s death (Healthcare, Audits and Spinning Results) have prompted a lot of people to share stories with me.

What I find interesting is that many of these people are reaching out with the hope that I will take their stories and share them with investigative journalists or that I will respond to their plea to “do something” in regards to their particular concern.

When I ask them why they can’t or won’t do it themselves, they respond with many reasons (or excuses) – they’re too busy, they don’t know how, they don’t want to endanger family members, they don’t want to threaten their source of income, they don’t want to get caught up in court cases and such. 

Then they disappear.

In their mind it’s easier to ask someone else to absorb all of that instead of taking the risk themselves.

If they feel that strongly about something, then they will find a way ……. if they have the courage to do so and if they want it bad enough.

The Life of a Caped Crusader

Many people that know me think of me as a caped crusader, striding through a world of complexity and ignorance, righting wrongs and saving the destitute and the downtrodden.  They also envy the life of excitement that this lifestyle must obviously produce.

To set the record straight, I am not such a caped crusader, bravely looking for problems with an intention to save the world.  I prefer a life of quiet with as little complexity and noise as possible.

And for the things I do get involved in, I don’t do it for excitement nor do I intentionally look to get in the middle of it.  In fact, many of the situations come with a burden of responsibility that outsiders often don’t see – responsibilities that make me wonder if I would have gotten involved had I known “the details” in advance.

When I do get involved I am all in regardless of what is at stake.

Some examples ….

Breaking up a ring of pornography websites being hosted on the servers of a major Wall St. bank.  The consultants who worked for the bank created and managed the porn sites and the senior bank officers didn’t want to take action because these consultants were allegedly so smart that they might be needed to save the bank should problems arise.  I didn’t like it and neither did the people that I eventually reported it to.

Exposing the fact that Opus Dei members have knowledge of priests who are known pedophiles but who haven’t been discovered by the law …. yet (The Roman Catholic Church – Sins in Leadership).

Exposing a terrorist (or terrorist wannabe) that I reported after observing him preparing terrorism-laden material in a coffee shop (The Power of Trusting Your Instinct).  Other people also observed what he was doing but later admitted that it was “none of their business”.

Exposing the executive director of a national charity that I was on the board of who was stealing money to fuel a private company that he was starting (Not-For-Profits Needing For-Profit Discipline).  The remainder of the board kept sending me information, privately imploring me to take action while publicly supporting this individual.  I exposed them all and resigned while he later extorted a severance package out of them, informing them that if they didn’t give him a nice departure gift, he would publicly expose how they knew all along what he was doing. 

Warning people of the pending financial collapse in September of 2008 based on my own observations in various boardrooms but doing so in a way that could not be interpreted as a contravention of various covenants (Financial Crisis).

Revealing details of a discussion between myself and my former father-in-law (a decorated WWII pilot and USAF colonel) and his experiences working on black projects at Wright Patterson AFB (Truth or Fiction – Perception and Life Experience).

Being a Sarbanes Oxley whistle blower in a case involving one of the largest insurance companies in the world as well as one of the largest software companies in the world.

Calling out politicians for inauthenticity (Danielle Smith – Something Wicked This Way Comes) or decrying the lack of value in feel-good stuff that actually helps no one (Bullies, Pink Shirts and Attaboys).

Dropping a little hint about emergency preparedness and the realities of our world (Damaged Teams – A Product of Broken Leaders) – a blog that caught the attention of some anti-terrorism groups for some reason.

The list goes on and on (many of them documented within my blog).

What is my motivation?

In truth none of them were as exciting (in a fun, James Bond way) as people perceive them to be.

In fact, many of them produced significant strain on me and people around me when the events took place.

Most of them involved taking a stand against large, powerful organizations and there was much at risk, including death threats, an offer for witness protection in the state of NY, “official” threats (read that as you will) and a number of other complexities.

But I did it anyway.

I didn’t do it to save the world nor did I go looking for the situations.

It would sound very heroic to quote W. Clement Stone and say that I was living by this creed when I got involved:

Have the courage to say no. Have the courage to face the truth. Do the right thing because it is right. These are the magic keys to living your life with integrity.

I could delude myself by saying that I was following the words of Harry S. Truman when he noted:

Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.

I could say that the following words of Confucius run through my mind every time I am faced with a difficult situation:

Faced with what is right, to leave it undone shows a lack of courage.

In all authenticity, there were no such quotes flowing through my mind when those scenarios occurred.

There were no delusions of grandeur - saving the world, intentionally embarrassing people, seizing rewards / accolades or anything else.

I knew that what I was observing was wrong, needed to be fixed or at least be brought out into the light for appropriate parties to address before someone else was hurt by what I saw.

A Message To Others

For those who struggle with their own courage to right the wrongs that they see, I can tell them that every time I allowed my instinct to take me wherever I was being called, my courage grew a little. 

Eventually it grew to a point where I knew that my voice would be heard above the cacophony of the inauthentic, the greedy, the ignorant, the bully and those who believe they have the right to make the world a more dangerous, less beautiful, less authentic place to live.

And while I don’t go around looking  for these people, when they end up in front of me, I believe we have been connected for a reason - a reason and a calling that I can’t deny, even if I risk what Charlie Chaplin noted when he said (smiley face is mine):

Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself. Smile

We need more people who are willing to dare to make fools of themselves.

Sometimes we will in fact accomplish that instead of what we set out to accomplish.

But if we are careful, if we keep our emotions in check, if we rely on facts and knowledge, if we leverage the help of others and if we dare to look at the world we are creating for our children, we will know what the right thing to do is.

And we will know that we can’t wait for someone else to carry our passion and purpose to fruition.  After all, our purpose and passion are likely not the purpose and passion of someone else and so if things are going to get done, we have to be the change that we wish to see.

It is up to each of us to make a difference.  It is our collective passions, sense of purpose, talents and strengths that make the world the beautiful place that it is.

And besides ….

If not us , then who?

If not now, then when?

Each of us has a voice that matters.

However, it only has value and it only grows stronger when it is used, especially in the service of others.

When it is not exercised on a regular basis, it eventually atrophies and you fade into obscurity, denying yourself an opportunity to fulfill your purpose and leave a legacy that serves the needs of others while inspiring other people to follow their passion.

Do you exercise your voice when you should or you must?

If the answer is yes, how do you know?

If the answer is no, then why not?

Someone is waiting for your voice to be heard.

What are you waiting for?

In service and servanthood,

Harry (The Asker of Audacious Questions)


My dear friend Kathleen M. referenced a cool phrase (“truth seeker or truth speaker”) that I have never heard before and so I’d like to quote her:

If you are afraid to be a truth seeker or a truth speaker then you need to evaluate why. If you have a truth that must see the light, then speak up and do not stop.

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