Most of the change we think we see in life is due to truths being in and out of favor. - Robert Frost
It is a fool's prerogative to utter truths that no one else will speak. - Neil Gaiman
It is a very lonely life that a man leads, who becomes aware of truths before their times. - Thomas Reed
The #1206 “fiction” series continues …
Abigail walked down the forest path in silent thought, her brain turning over the events of the week. She was trying to make sense of things locally and globally and on some days she did better than others.
She sighed and looked up at the fall sky and wondered why God allowed all of these things to happen.
“It’s a pretty complicated world, isn’t it?”, a voice to her right asked, causing Abigail to jump with a start.
Abigail looked towards the source of the voice and found herself looking at a tall, thin man whose glittering eyes looked intently into hers.
“I’m sorry”, he said with a smile, “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“It’s ok”, said Abigail, feeling uncomfortable about standing next to a stranger while being miles from anywhere … and help if she needed it.
“Isn’t that what you were thinking?”, the stranger asked, “Wondering why the world seems so complicated.”
“Well, yes”, stammered Abigail, slightly confused by the stranger’s sudden appearance, his awareness of what she was thinking and his directness.
“Please share your thoughts”, the stranger said with a smile.
“Well”, began Abigail, “I was thinking about a local election result in Alberta. The Party that thought it was going to win lost. Even though they lost the general election in a big way, they still believed that they had this by-election in the bag despite accusations of dishonesty in their campaign. A lot of people inside their party, including elected officials, executives and members of various boards complained vehemently in secret and predicted a loss but they refused to allow their concerns to be revealed in public or to have their name attached to any dissension. Now after the election, they are still arguing and criticizing each other in secret but few have any interest in voicing their concerns or collaborating towards helping their party improve. They even privately praise people who have the courage to point out the issues in the Party while publicly expressing discomfort about the same people.”
She paused for a moment before saying quietly, “It just doesn’t make sense.”
“It does make sense”, said the stranger, “You just answered the very question you are pondering.”
Abigail looked at him quizzically.
“Courage”, said the stranger empathically, “It takes no effort, responsibility or accountability to complain, criticize and undermine in private. It takes great courage to voice a concern, raise an issue or dare to point out that something is wrong. Few people have sufficient courage to do what is right when they are called to do so. They secretly admire those who have courage while simultaneously resenting them either secretly or publicly for having the courage that they wish they had.”
Abigail listened in silence.
“It creates a strange duality within people”, continued the stranger, “They are consumed by the need for the world to be better and in fact, are consumed by their need to be a part of that change but when it is time for them to take action, they take none and resign themselves to expressing frustration to people who can’t change the problem or who don’t care enough to change it.”
The stranger looked at her intently, his eyes glittering in the soft autumn sun.
“There is a lot of that going around, Abigail”, he said, both gently and accusingly.
“What do you mean?”, asked Abigail.
“Well”, replied the stranger, “Take the situation with the Syrian refugees. The travesties in Syria have been going on for years with hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children dying every year. Many people have pointed this out but government leaders have done absolutely nothing. For the most part, these leaders have been able to hide from the problem and contain it within the borders of Syria, not having the courage or the will to do something greater. Now that the refugees have spilled over the border, they have become a problem that no one can hide and so world leaders are now forced to take a stand.”
He paused for a moment, frowning as he did so.
“Ironically”, he continued, “Many of these same leaders now call upon global courage to do something when in fact it was their own lack of courage that has allowed this to grow into the disaster that it has become. When we don’t use our courage when called upon, things always get worse and in fact, sometimes they get much worse. Have you ever noticed as well that when there are important things to be done either at home or abroad, that politicians and others throw out questions to unrelated problems which they claim are higher priority and need to be addressed right away? Meanwhile, others rally people around demonstrations, petitions, social media “likes” and other mundane things that don’t help the situation at all nor do they help the people who are in trouble but somehow the organizers assert that the feel-good gesture has had a huge impact despite having accomplished absolutely nothing. That’s their way of misdirecting your attention away from what really needs to be addressed and to keep you from seeing that they don’t have any answers for the things that matter.”
Abigail nodded but said nothing.
The stranger noted her agreement and continued. “Whether it’s a political party in Alberta or an international disaster in Syria, choosing to ignore what needs to be done because one doesn’t feel that one has enough courage will cause one to need much more courage later as the problem grows in complexity. Sometimes, unfortunately, this delay can result in problems becoming unsolvable or very dangerous or can even create new problems currently unanticipated.”
“But political leaders, even our own, are promising a lot of aid and relief now”, protested Abigail.
“True”, replied the stranger, “but much of their promises serve their gain right now. When they could have prevented the problem but there was nothing in it for them, they ignored it. Now they can’t ignore it and can possibly leverage it into personal gain. Aren’t the leaders who are now promoting help in the middle of political campaigns and in need of deeds that show that they are true leaders? Now they can spin their previous lack of courage into deeds of courageousness, humanity and leadership. Do you not see the coincidence?”
“But how can little people like me change the world?”, asked Abigail, “I have nothing to offer and no influence.”
“That is your lack of courage and conviction talking”, replied the stranger, “But remember what I said. A lack of courage and conviction today produces much larger problems tomorrow. You must find a way to allow your courage to be the change you want to see while it still matters. But first, you must make a decision to do something …. anything. The power that comes from conviction and a decision to do something is essential.”
Abigail walked in silence for a short distance when a question dawned on her.
She turned to ask the stranger …. but he was gone.
In a hot, sweltering room in Palmyra, not far from Damascus, a group of men crowded around a map of Europe.
The outflow of humanity spreading outwards from Syria had proven to be the perfect Trojan Horse, allowing their own operatives to comingle with the hundreds of thousands of people who were the victims of the lack of courage of world leaders.
The lack of courage in those leaders was about to be replaced by the courage within their own martyrs.
“Courage always manifests in one side or the other”, thought one of the men as he studied the map.
“One man’s cowardice becomes another man’s opportunity”, he thought as he smiled at his colleagues.
To be continued.
© 2015 – Harry Tucker – All Rights Reserved
The political party referenced in this blog post is the PC Party of Alberta, whose private conversations between members over text, social media private messaging and emails show a great deal of concern, unhappiness and unrest.
However, ask those same people to bring forth their concerns to help the Party become better and they become afraid, not wanting their comments to be shared publicly or have their name attached to them in any way.
They somehow need their Party to heal itself as if by magic while simultaneously complaining that it is taking too long.
Meanwhile, a lot of passionate, intelligent people with great ideas remain silent, condemning their Party to greater difficulty down the road.
I remember some years ago when I sat on the board for a children’s charity and it was discovered that a senior executive within that organization was up to no good, siphoning money out of the charity’s coffers for personal use, using trips on behalf of the organization to make plans for his own company, running at odds with the Canada Revenue Agency and other things.
As board members found out about his dalliances, they all came to me with basically the same message:
This really bothers me. You should do something about this.
I asked them why I should do something about it when they had data I didn’t have and because it was affronting them. They presented a number of excuses including “Well I’m also on the board of …….”, “I don’t want to make waves because …..”, “I don’t want to be thrown out of the organization because ….”, “I don’t want to damage the reputation of the charity” and a number of other things.
The truth was that they wanted to hedge their bets – they wanted things to be fixed but they didn’t want to go out on a limb to do so and they didn’t want to be left alone in case their effort to correct things didn’t garner support, leaving them standing by themselves and feeling foolish (at least from their perspective).
In other words – they lacked the courage to be the change they wanted and demanded to see.
By the time I had enough data to realize that the individual in question was breaking the law and recognizing my liability exposure and responsibility as a board member, I challenged the individual in a board meeting and resigned when the board refused to support me publicly (even though they pleaded with me privately to do something).
While board members privately marvelled at my so-called courage, they didn’t follow up by voting the individual out of the organization until a few months later when they realized that he really was breaking the law. When they tried to force him out, he told them that since they had known since my resignation that he was breaking the law, he would blow the whistle on them also as accomplices unless they forked over a small fee in order to keep him quiet.
You would expect that with extortion on top of everything else, that these people would finally have had the gumption to send this guy to jail, right?
No – they paid him using the charity’s money and he used the money to start his own company, a company that still thrives.
The world is a lot like that political party and that charity. We complain a lot to others but rarely have the courage to speak out or take appropriate action.
What do we think this will accomplish?
Will the world get better or worse when the people who are the most self-motivated are the only ones showing courage and whose actions aren’t always in the best interests of others?
Is that good enough for you?
Is that good enough for your family?
How do you know?
What are you willing to do about it?
We need to fix the problem with the Syrian refugees while not compromising our own security.
But more importantly, we need to show courage in not allowing things like this to happen in the first place.
Meanwhile, the media (both mainstream and social) will continue to tug at our heartstrings, filling our mind with travesties from places like Ethiopia, Haiti, Indonesia and Syria until they find another subject to move on to. Despite the clamor for justice and solutions at the moment, the people in the countries just named will continue to suffer out of sight and out of mind long after our attention has moved on to the next suffering du jour.
Unfortunately, we are human and as such, likely won’t learn from the event in Syria or elsewhere until the stakes are much greater.
By then, it may be too late.
This series, a departure from my usual musings, is inspired as a result of conversations with former senior advisors to multiple Presidents of the United States, senior officers in the US Military and other interesting folks as well as my own professional background as a Wall St. / Fortune 25 strategy and large-scale technology architect.
While this musing is just “fiction” and a departure from my musings on technology, strategy, politics and society, as a strategy guy, I do everything for a reason and with a measurable outcome in mind. :-)
This “fictional” musing is a continuation of the #1206 series noted here.