Moral Courage – Our Compass to Making a Difference

Tonight, I would like to speak to you – through this writing – about our place in history and our place in determining the path that society follows. Over the course of the past decade, in the United States and globally, public discourse has taken upon a tumultuous turn. Our society has always bore the burden of crisis, this is the story of human civilization.

Often times, we are wrapped up in our own world, in the events, triumphs and plights that cross our own paths and directly impact us. However, what must be realized is that all events impact us, even if it is in an indirect manner. Public policy and public discourse treats all of us the same in that we all live in the outcoming society of our global society’s events. Thus, we should be paying attention and trying to make a positive difference in whatever way that we can. With our elections, we are asked to vote on issues that affect us both directly and indirectly. The key is that we have voice in matter no matter how it affects us personally.

The point that I would like to make with this statement is that we have an obligation to moral courage as inhabitants of this world. Often times, when things go wrong, we blame a faceless bureaucracy and the public servants that serve as the face of a policy or decision. We ask these people entities to display moral courage. While this is fair and acceptable – with power comes responsibility – those in power are not alone in needing to answer to the virtue of moral courage. We all answer that call. We are a government that derives its power from the will of the people. Despite the power that lobbies and organizations of wealth wield, we – the people – hold the true power. We need to realize it. Not only do we need to realize our own power, we need to believe in it. We need to act upon it. We need to step up and claim the crown to our place in history and our era’s contribution to sustaining human society now.

Look around us. Look at the world around you. We are at a crossroads. Should we want to improve the world that we live in and make a difference in sustaining society and the human condition of dignity, we must act. We must step up. It does not matter your standing or whether you are young or old. Stand up. Stand and deliver. Take action for what is right. We do not exist in a past time or a future time. We exist now. Our time is now. We are needed now. Let us be that ripple of hope – now. Today.

We, through our actions, are the ones who can influence change. We do not want change to be evil – we want it to be for good. We should be seeking a world where one’s destiny is determined by the quality of their effort and work. We should be seeking a world where all have the opportunity to seek a life of happiness and purpose where they can accomplish success through hard work and honest effort. We should be seeking to knock down the walls of oppression that divide us and make us weak. We should be seeking to strengthen the bond of the love and compassion that resides within our hearts that unites us all as humans – one heartbeat. While this vision may not be attainable in its ideal state, indeed – there has never been total peace on Earth during mankind’s existence, it is an ideal that is worth striving for. As the saying goes, if we shoot for the moon, even if we miss, we will land among the stars.

This ideal – this vision – can be accomplished by looking to our own moral compass’ and following the path of moral courage ourselves – not leaving it just to those that we have elected to represent us. Our actions each day, no matter how small, influence this vision as well. Whether we are standing up for what we believe in, voting in support or opposition of a piece of public policy or simply making a positive impact in society by being a good person, we have the opportunity to make a difference every day. We have the opportunity to follow our moral compass and to perform acts of moral courage. By moral courage, I simply mean doing what is right – not what is popular.

So, as you wake up tomorrow, look at the world around us. Read about what is going on in your community and in society as a whole. Ask yourself what you can do to better the world around you. Ask yourself if you have the moral courage to follow the moral compass that we know lives deep within us – each and every one of us. Ask yourself if you are going to make a difference today. Tomorrow. And the next day. The answer should be yes. It might come in the form of advocating for a piece of policy or in support of someone who supports a policy. It might come in the form of standing and delivering on your own – a mountain that can become an island that others can stand upon and reach above the crashing waves from.

Yes, we all have this power, and collectively we can form an unstoppable wave of compassion and humanity. But it must start today. It must start now. Our time is not a time of the past or future. It is now. Look inside yourself. What does your compass tell you? Unleash your moral courage and make a difference in this world and in our time. Be the difference.

Finding Your Value – A Surprising Journey

“What is something about you that would surprise people?”

This is a basic question, yet one that is difficult to answer. This was a question that was posed as part of a staff training/orientation at work a week ago. As I thought of how to answer this question, hundreds of thoughts popped into my head – none of them the truly correct answer. As I sat with two colleagues, all I could think of were things that they already knew about me. I’m a farmer. I’m a business owner. I write lyrics and poetry. I’m a Sport Management alum and a former land surveyor. I am a sibling and a Personal Care Attendant.

What escaped me in that moment was the true answer. An answer that never came to fruition, yet was born from a spirit within me – the need, the desire to make a difference. What I should have answered with is an answer that those reading this may have heard me allude to in passing.

The answer that I should have given was that in my Senior year of college, as I was searching for jobs, I entered into a two month period where I was in contact with a United States Marine Corps recruiter and was seriously considering joining the military. Go ahead – laugh. I know that for more than a few people, the idea of Kushi – the one teachers called “church mouse” when he was younger due to his shyness – being a Marine is likely an amusing image. I’ll admit, it can be. Needless to say, that is not the path that was ultimately journeyed. And while that likely fits the bill in answering the question posed above, it does lead to another interesting discussion. Why? Why did that idea appeal to me?

Well, to start, there is this now legendary commercial:

I have watched this commercial many times. On top of the fact that there is messaging present – I have noticed something more. Look at what they are trying to portray – drive, grit, courage, selflessness, dedication. These are all virtues that we strive to have and to achieve. I know that they are virtues that I have always sought to have and be seen as having, whether I knew it or not. What can all of these virtues lead to? What does the life of a Marine have implied meaning of? MAKING A DIFFERENCE.

My whole life, I have had a need to make a difference or feel like I am making a difference. Most of us do. My problem was that I didn’t know how.  I was the one who didn’t always know which course of action to take and didn’t always have the confidence to do so when I knew how. The thing about not knowing how to do something is that you don’t know that you can do it until you do. I was a shy kid, yet I somehow found it in me to stand up for my brother. Suddenly, that shy kid who wrote for the school newspaper figured out that he could stand up for his brother who had disabilities and lead a fight again the use of the word “retard” in an offensive manner by writing an article about it. Oh, I pissed some classmates off, but I stood up and delivered for what I knew what was right. The same goes for when it was graduation time. My brother stayed in the school system until the age of 21 and that was it. No ceremony or acknowledgement like he deserved. He deserved that honor as much as his little brother did. When all was said and done and I had had a few conversations with the Principal, my brother received a certificate just as I did. These tasks were accomplished because I stood up for what I thought was right and I sought to make a difference and better the lives of a fellow person.

In my professional life, I have had to rely on these virtues as well. I have served as a town board member, a town athletics coach and started/operated my own business along with a winding career path that led to some tough lessons in my 20’s. I have had to have drive and grit to make it. Some of this drive and grit is a part of who I am and some of it has been inspired by the ideals that I value – such as the ones displayed in the Marine Corps commercial. Sometimes, I have a tendency to try and go above and beyond what may be expected of me on paper. This goes back to who I am and what I value. Maybe deep down, I want to be the personification of that Marine in that commercial. You may not expect the extra effort from me to get the job done but I do. Anything less, effort-wise on my part, is failure to do the best that can be done to get the job done.  I think that most of us have that mentality, that – when we are playing our hand – we want to be the toughest son of a gun on the field. We want to be that good co-worker that helps get the job done for our team; that person who can look in the mirror and say “I have done everything in my power to get the job done and make a difference. No one can say that I have not worked hard enough.”  We all have that in us, whether you are a natural go-getter or whether you are someone who was accused of being a timid church house. When the cards are on the table, you have the ability to do something and make a difference, so long as you work hard, are selfless and are willing to go above and beyond what is expected and what you think you can do.

The lesson to be learned here is that no matter who you are, you can make a difference. You can be an inspiration. You can be a person of honor and dignity. The road will not always be easy and there will be some rough roads that are journeyed, but you can make it. If you have grit, drive, the ability to follow your moral compass and the courage to follow your heart, you can make a difference in this world and in others lives. If you ever doubt that, just remember a line from the movie Fievel Goes West: “I don’t know what’s out there beyond those hills, but if you ride yonder, head up, eyes steady, heart open, I think one day you’ll find that you’re the hero you’ve been lookin’ for.”

To answer the question that opened this discussion, maybe the fact that I once had the idea of the Marine Corps appeal to me isn’t what the most surprising thing about me was. Maybe it’s the journey that took place within my own self that showed me that I could make a difference – no matter how small. Perhaps, this journey that each individual goes through at some point in their life in discovering their difference making value is the most surprising thing that we don’t know about a person. 

Human Exploration – Our Future and a Tribute to Apollo 11

“Twenty seconds and counting. T minus 15 seconds, guidance is internal. Twelve, 11, 10, 9, ignition sequence starts. 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0, all engine running, liftoff. We have a liftoff, 32 minutes past the hour. Liftoff on Apollo 11.”

It has been fifty years – July 1969 – since Apollo 11 lifted off from Florida to not only visit the Moon but to land on it and became the first inhabitants of the human race to step foot on the Moon and into the ledgers of history. Fifty years ago, Neil Armstrong, “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins departed the comforts of the land we call Earth and rocketed through grips of the atmosphere, strapped to the top of a Saturn V rocket. Armstrong and Aldrin became the first members of the human race to set foot upon our moon and to collect artifacts from the lunar surface that provided the true treasure provided by the trip – educational knowledge. Yes, a lunar landing was a political goal as well, but it accomplished so much more than that. It’s incredible when you stop and think about it. This great feat of human achievement was brought about by advances in technology, the hard work of the human mind and a dream that was based partly in the goal of advancing civilization through educational knowledge.

Lately, I have noticed an uptick of programming concentrated around our past lunar activity. Some have not realized this milestone anniversary coming up. And there are, of course, those who were glued to their TV screens, when a soft-spoken yet accomplished astronaut/engineer named Neil Armstrong stepped off of the LEM and onto the surface of the Moon.

Many found it ironic that Armstrong was the one to make history, yet fitting as well. Armstrong was certainly more than accomplished but seen as a serious man who was drawn more to the engineering and piloting aspects of being an astronaut than the hype that such an explorer tended to carry.

Why do I mention this? In a time where we see hard times are seeing both good times and bad times of the human condition here on Earth, there are many who question the worth of further human exploration. “We have enough issues here!”, some say. True – point taken. In addition to all of the good stories of human accomplishment that we bear witness to, we also bear witness to a great number of tragedies that come from a society made up of imperfect beings – war, food insecurity, poverty, crime and health epidemics to name a few.

However, that is not a reason to halt the advancement of civilization. Human civilization has always gone forward based on the advances of human achievement, accomplished through some mode of exploration. At one time in history, farming was an unknown frontier to be explored. So too were the seas that had yet to be sailed upon and the lands that were unknown to human eyes. Yes, even the skies were once an unknown world. Yet, we – the human race – explored them and found out what the fish saw in the waters and what the birds saw in the skies. We relied upon our intuitive skills and our technology on hand to gain the greatest treasure of all – educational knowledge. This knowledge was then used to make the human condition better and advance civilization forward. How can we stop this now? Are we to let the sadness of imperfections rule our future kingdoms? How do we keep advancing should we stop? No. We must continue exploring – whether that be more of the skies, space and ocean waters to other elements of this world that we are only just discovering. That is how we survive and sustain the human race and civilization.

The second reason I mention the Apollo 11 mission is in regards to the human element. There were those who questioned why mankind was doing this at all. Remember this – human accomplishment is nothing without the people who do the work. Those who have achieved much in this world and who have “made history” have been people, just like you and I. These people made a difference. So can you and I. We have many new frontiers before us, some known and some unknown. One of our new frontiers is continuing to gain educational knowledge with the aid of technology, whether that be in training others in a classroom, in a lab or by exploring in the field. The one common factor is that this work will be done by humans, whether by our hands our programmed into some form of artificial intelligence.

I make this point and this reference to a historical milestone that occurred 50 years ago for this reason – we are all capable of accomplishing something and leaving a mark in history. Whether it be in your family, by serving on a town/city committee or serving in some other capacity, we all have the ability to make a difference, just as the crew members and members of Mission Control did on the historic exploration feat that occurred 50 years ago this July.

No matter what you do in this life, do it well. Make a difference. Be the difference.