The Thumper Rule – If You Don’t Have Something Nice to Say

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I heard my father’s voice in my head: “Be nice,” so I choked out a strained “thank you” through a fake smile. What I really wanted to say was, “Are you KIDDING me?!!” 

The young Airman standing in front of me had very proudly secured an all black Toyota Forerunner from the motor pool that he thought was, “a cool color.” In a place where the summer temperatures reach 130 degrees Fahrenheit, I had a black car without tinted windows. And I had to say “thank you.” In fact, if I’d said anything else, I’m sure I’d have crushed him because he thought he was doing me a favor. Not everyone has a black car in Kuwait. In fact, in the year I was there I never saw another black car! It was unheard of in the desert country of Kuwait because the Kuwaitis knew better.

As I tore my stunned gaze away from the solar oven that was about to be my command vehicle, I searched for something to say.  Heck, I’d have left there and had a beer to drown my sorrows–except General Order No 1 prohibited the consumption of alcohol in the Central Command Area of Responsibility. So, I smiled, thanked the young man, and left before I said something I knew I’d regret.

What Thumper Said–Sometimes

In the classic Disney film, Bambi, there is a scene when Bambi’s cottontail companion Thumper is corrected by his mother after he makes a rude comment about Bambi. In reply to his mother’s, “Thumper, what did your father tell you?”, he replies sweetly, “If you don’t have somethin’ nice to say, don’t say nuthin’ at all.” It’s good advice that seems more difficult to abide by in the digital age.

It’s easy in the heat of the moment and particularly online to be more direct and verbally aggressive than we would’ve been otherwise. It’s particularly easy when the interface between you and another person is a computer screen that you take with you everywhere (like your phone or tablet). It’s gotten so bad for some that a few friends of mine have abandoned all social media completely. I think a great many people, fearful of others’ harsh words or perhaps their own, have simply ceded the public square to the trolls.

Light a Candle

The truth is very, very few of us enjoy being mean or nasty. There are a few people out there who seem to thrive on the pain and embarrassment of others, but most people really don’t like confrontation or meanness. But just like the old saying, “Don’t curse the darkness, light a candle,” we can actually do something about it.

It starts with living out what you believe, and doing so in a positive and constructive way. As my own father wisely told me, “Taking the coat off someone else’s back doesn’t make mine any warmer.” He means, tearing others down doesn’t build us up–it actually brings all of us down together. If we truly believe that other humans are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and “in the image and likeness of God,” shouldn’t we treat our fellow humans as if that were true? If we actually believe in the ideal that “all men are brothers”, shouldn’t our words and actions reflect that belief?

I think it should, and that’s our way to light a candle. When the conversation gets bad, we can find a way to show love to one another and bring a little peace with our words, or even silence. If you are human and mess up, then apologize as best you can and try to be better next time. Even if we need to correct something or defend ourselves or others, we can do that peacefully and with love.

That’s lighting a candle, too. And it’s also what Thumper would’ve done.

 


Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’s.

Sign up for my mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders ebook as a thank you!

 

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What I Saw in Houston

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leadership by Experience, The Five Be's, Veterans
Team Rubicon “Greyshirts” of FOB FRIENDSWOOD prepare to move out for the day.

Last week I deployed with Team Rubicon on my first ever disaster response operation: Operation Hard Hustle.  I can tell you I got more out of the experience than I gave—serving others and doing important work in the company of other military veterans and first responders is soul-cleansing. This post is my reflection on that week.

Doing good work and serving others is my primary reason for volunteering, but there is a secondary benefit as well. The experience also provides a place for veterans to be among other veterans, and to reconnect with the “brotherhood.” Having spent my entire adult life in uniform, I relish that connection.  WW II soldier and Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Bill Mauldin called it the “Benevolent And Protective Brotherhood Of Them What Has Been Shot At”, and that’s a discription I’ve thought about many times over the course of my career.

My Air Force specialty was civil engineering and installation management, which means when bad things happened I went to work. Being retired from the Air Force, I was now on the sidelines of a disaster happening just a few hours by car away from me. I felt the need to be there, and so enter Team Rubicon. I’ve written about Team Rubicon before, but in a nutshell it’s a veteran-led organization who respond to disasters. When we were in the military, we received a lot of training on handling chaos and trauma—some of us were medics, rescue personnel, infantry, engineers, etc. Team Rubicon allows us to put our military experience and training to work as well as continue to serve.

I can tell you I got more out of the experience than I gave—serving others and doing important work in the company of other military veterans and first responders is soul-cleansing.

Pack Your Stuff

My “Go Bag” is packed.

When Hurricane Harvey headed for the Texas coast gaining strength, I felt I just couldn’t sit idle while people were about to have their lives shattered when I had the skills to help. On Thursday with Harvey’s rain pounding and wind howling outside, I filled out the forms, did the training, and submitted my background check. And waited.

I didn’t have to wait long.

On Sunday afternoon I received the coveted “green dot” on my TR Profile meaning I was cleared, and an email with deployment orders to join the first wave of volunteers at Forward Operating Base (FOB) FRIENDSWOOD in Friendswood, Texas.  Most of my field gear and camping equipment is still in storage in Colorado, so I was off to Academy and Walmart to get a few things, then on Tuesday morning I drove the three hours down to our FOB for operations in the area. Our Area of Operations (AO) would include Friendswood, Dickinson, League City, Alvin, and Hitchcock. The Incident Command team of four seasoned TR volunteers was there a few days ahead of us, and we began operations as soon as we got signed in.

Professionals Talk Logistics

Warm welcome from Friendswood!

The first order of business for the handful of new arrivals was to set the logistics for the remainder of the deployment. We re-positioned vehicles, drew tools and equipment, and set up two dozen cots in the gym that would be our living quarters. I must say that the good people who hosted and supported us at Friendswood United Methodist were amazing. The fed us three meals a day, washed our clothes, and provided small comforts like toiletries, home baked goodies, and pillows. Can’t say enough about them and their servants’ hearts!

On Day 2 while a most of our team headed out to do Damage Assessments and work at a house (“Strike Team”), three of us headed to a warehouse down at the airport that would be our Reception, Staging, Onward Movement, and Integration (RSOI) center for Greyshirts (TR volunteers) arriving in the next week. We spend the morning cleaning it and getting the RSOI center ready, then back to the FOB after repositioning more vehicles, picking up others, and drawing more equipment for our teams.

“It’s Too Dangerous for My Children”

More Greyshirts arrive on Saturday!

On Days 3-5, I was finally able to get into the field and begin working with the people affected by the flooding. We went house to house in a Dickinson and Friendswood meeting with residents trying to cope with the wreckage that had been their homes. Whether a house got 4 inches or 4 feet of water, the damage was largely the same. Imagine taking everything you own and piling it in a wet, moldy heap in the front yard. That’s what the flooded areas look like.

One woman took the moment with us away from her family to shed a few tears with my teammate, afraid to be anything other than positive and strong in front of her husband and her kids. Another calmly told us the story of getting out of his house as the water went from ankle-deep to waist deep to chest deep so quickly they got out with the clothes on their backs in the boat they had in the driveway. He told us sadly about that during the evacuation, one of the family dogs was swept under the boat and drowned.

Another family in Dickinson told of a harrowing story of getting out as the flood waters rose. A woman in her 60’s walked her disabled brother and elderly neighbor through waist deep water following the yellow line on the road—none of them could swim. When she arrived at her 92-year-old mother’s house, she evacuated all of them by boat with the clothes on their backs.

Another woman flagged us down and told us she needed help. She spoke English slightly better than I speak Spanish, and we communicated in a blend of the two languages. While her young daughter slept in the car seat, she told us with tears welling in her eyes that she discovered only after the flood that she’d been renting her house, rather than paying a mortgage. With two little ones with her, and her son in the Navy in California, she was unsure what to do next because she couldn’t go home (“demasiado peligroso para mis niños –it’s too dangerous for my children”).

There are thousands of stories like that.

I completed the last two days of my tour in the command post as Deputy Ops, and it was gratifying to see the work we gathered getting scheduled and teams dispatched. At the end of seven amazing days, I said good-bye to the team and returned home.

Everyone we met had an unshakable faith in God. Through the flood waters and devastation of their homes, their faith in God and in each other had remained unvanquished.

Houston Strong

Despite the occasional tears, two things struck me: the resilience of the people and the amazing example of who we are as Texans and Americans these people provided.

First, Houstonians specifically and Texans in general are incredibly resilient. Many of the houses we visited had already had a volunteer group come through and provide initial demolition assistance. It’s imperative to get the wet stuff out of the house quickly to avoid dangerous mold growth. Neighbors shared food by having cookouts and checked on each other.  One man we met assembled a trailer with a grill and coolers, worked a deal with the local Walmart manager to buy food, and then circulated around neighborhoods feeding people. Even those we met who opened their hearts and cried a little always took a big breath and let resolve to go forward settle on them before we left. Everyone we met had an unshakable faith in God. Through the flood waters and devastation of their homes, their faith in God and in each other had remained unvanquished.

Second, spending a week with volunteers and Houstonians reinforced to me that America is still who we thought she is. America remains the City on a Hill. Men and women from all over the country came to help Houstonians recover. Groups of volunteers from countless churches, neighborhoods, and civic organizations went house to house to help strangers. We saw perhaps a dozen other volunteer groups working in each neighborhood.

While as a Texan I believe there’s something special about Texas, I’ve traveled enough and lived enough other places to know that if Texans indeed did anything truly extraordinary it was only to remind our fellow Americans who we are as a country.

Our team visited with men and women of every color, creed, and background. Time and again I heard them tell me, “All that division is crap. We’re Americans, we’re Texans.” We honestly believe All Men Are Created Equal and in the “image and likeness of God”; it’s not a slogan here. I’m not naive, I know there are problems and people sometimes do bad, even evil, things to each other. But I also know the vast majority of people around us are good and decent, and will be there for you when things get bad. While as a Texan I believe there’s something special about Texas, I’ve traveled enough and lived enough other places to know that if Texans indeed did anything truly extraordinary it was only to remind our fellow Americans who we are as a country.

Move to the Sound of the Guns

Napoleon’s standing order for units out of communication with his headquarters was to “move to the sound of the guns.” It is an imperative to act and not wait for someone to tell you what to do. There was no gunfire on the Texas Gulf Coast, but there was a battle to be waged against Nature and it was good men and women who moved to the metaphorical “sound of the guns” when things went bad. Napoleon’s order is something military people and first responders do instinctively, and I believe there’s something in the Texan and American character that drives that instinct. We saw that play out on TV countless times when men and women “moved to the sound of the guns” to help their neighbors. Federal, State, local authorities, and volunteers didn’t wait for someone to give them orders; they acted and worked together to save lives and now to rebuild them.

My Team Rubicon teammates were there doing swift water rescues, and we’ll be there to help Houston rebuild. It’s TR men and women: veterans, first responders, medical professionals, and a few civilians in the mix who represent what’s right about America.

The City on a Hill may have a few potholes and broken windows, but she remains a shining example of who America truly is as a country. We really are who we say we are, and I believe that now more than ever.


Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’s.

Sign up for my mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders ebook as a thank you!

 

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High Performing Leaders Live a Balanced Life

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Anyone can put their head down and power through life, however, it takes a mature person to understand that how you live is equally important as what you accomplish. -Mickey Addison, The Five Be’s

 

 

We sat in the Officer’s Club at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho: three lieutenants with cold beers in hand trying to impress each other with the hours we were working. It was a perverse matter of pride for us–and lots of others at the time–to brag about the amount of time we were working. Bragging about children’s birthdays missed, anniversaries spent away, and late nights was a badge of honor. Forget family life, personal development, even physical fitness; our sole measure of merit was how many hours we put in at work.

We lieutenants were seriously out of balance; how times have changed! Remember, this was during the Cold War, before the Air Force and our country was pulled into war in ‘90 in Iraq and a decade before 9/11. By the end of my Air Force career, we developed many better ways to measure our effectiveness, both as individuals and as teams. We’re all ready and willing to work hard when it’s necessary, but as a former commander once said, “You can’t run at 110% all the time.” There are still sacrifices to be made, but I think we’re a much better military as a result of paying attention to “Be Balanced.”

Be Balanced

If 30 years in the Air Force leading Airmen taught me nothing else, it taught me the lesson of “Be Balanced.” Living a life in balance makes a leader more effective, and more resilient. By attending to our mental, physical, and spiritual balance, we store up strength like in a battery. Then, when the time comes to reach into those reserves, we have something left to draw from. Mental balance means proper management of stress, and it also means nourishing our minds with new and interesting things. Leaders are learners. Physical balance means taking care of our bodies–we only get one of those–so proper food, sleep, and exercise delivers a body that won’t quit when the going gets tough. Finally, spiritual balance means feeding our human spirit good things, storing up spiritual energy in our internal “batteries” so that when times are hard, we have a reserve. It means a recognition that we are more than mere flesh and blood, and need a connection to things larger than ourselves.

Balance Brings Resilience

Agility and resiliency are popular topics in today’s business leadership circles. The reason that’s so is because business is learning what the military has know for some time: people are the weapon system and the real reason for victory. Technology and organizations change, but people who fight are the reason we succeed or fail. A team of balanced people can perform at very high levels, and still have “gas in the tank” for more!

 


Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’s.

Sign up for my mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders ebook as a thank you!

 

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Why You Need a Coach

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I need a coach. Anyone can trudge through a task or lesson on their own, but if I truly want to get better I’m in need of a coach. I’ve been an athlete all my life. I started soccer at age 6, baseball at age 8, and I lettered in both football and track in high school. Attending a senior military college and then entering the Air Force afterwards meant intramural sports, physical training and annual physical fitness tests from the age of 18 until my retirement from the service this past June. Of course, we lead active lives in our house as well: hiking, cycling, CrossFit, surfing. Well, you get the idea. I’m not a couch potato.

The reason for that self-absorbed preamble is to establish that at 52 years, I’m not a novice to physical fitness or the gym—and despite all that experience I STILL need a coach!

Successful People are Lifelong Learners

The man in the picture at left is one of my CrossFit coaches, Coach Andrew, of New Braunfels CrossFit. In my last job, my commute and work schedule combined to prevent me from going to a CrossFit “box” (gym), so I worked out on my own. Sure enough, working out with no coaching and no partner to provide some accountability meant I’ve developed many bad habits. That’s where Coach Andrew comes in. He’s there to correct, guide, and encourage—exactly what a coach should be. I can go out and work hard on my own, sweat, and stay in shape. If I want to improve, however, I need a coach.

As I discuss in my book, The Five Be’s, a key part of being healthy and successful is nourishing our minds—and that means being a lifelong learner. Learning requires a teacher, and putting thought into practice requires a coach. You can make a lot of progress watching YouTube videos and practicing on your own, but if you really want to improve then get a coach! One of the defining characteristics of successful people is being in “learning mode” their entire lives. President Bush (43) for example, was a voracious reader who consumed 95 books during his first year as president, and after he left office learned to paint!

What Makes a Great Coach

A great coach has three defining characteristics: (1) Technical Mastery, (2) Ability to Motivate, and (3) Patience. Technical Mastery is essential because a coach must have something to give; we expect our coaches to be experts. Technical Mastery is not enough, however, because the coach must be able to motivate the student and then patiently guide the improvement. There’s many people out there with one or two of these characteristics, great coaches possess all three!

When looking for a coach, whether it’s athletics, speaking, or executive leadership, look for someone whose an expert who can walk with you as you learn. Just as I need a coach to break my bad CrossFit habits, we all need people in our lives who can hold us accountable and make us better. A good coach imparts knowledge, a great coach inspires you to be better.

Be Balanced

To Be Balanced, you must nourish your minds and be a lifelong learner. Desire and hard work will only get you so far, to really improve you’ll need a coach.

Be sure to check out The Five Be’s, available in a few weeks in paperback and hardback!

 


Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’s.

Sign up for my mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders ebook as a thank you!

 

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What Is Courage? (Part I)

Posted Leave a commentPosted in The Five Be's

Mickey is in the midst of moving his household from Hawaii to Texas, so please enjoy this “classic” post from 2016. Original posts will resume in September. Also, don’t forget that The Five Be’s Second Edition goes live on Lulu and Amazon next month!!


Lt Harry Brubaker (William Holden) writing in a scene from the film The Bridges at Toko-ri (Paramount Pictures photo)

In the film, The Bridges at Toko-Ri, the Task Force Commander, Admiral Tarrant, wonders aloud about the courage of the men fighting under his command after a successful mission claims the life of a pilot and the helicopter crew sent to rescue him. Watching flight operations aboard the carrier, Tarrant remarks, “Where do we get such men?”

That question brings us face to face with trying to understand courage. Tarrant wondered at the courage to face bullets in a war far from home, but he is not the first to ask that question.

Here’s my definition: Physical courage is the ability to overcome fear and do what’s necessary in order to survive, save a life, accomplish a mission, or excel despite physical or psychological barriers.

Using this definition of physical courage obviously concerns overcoming external obstacles. To simplify, demonstrating physical courage is overcoming the “fight or flight” instinct., and choosing to fight. Physical courage results in facing danger or the threat of pain to accomplish a goal. Note the danger doesn’t have to be real – the mere threat of danger or pain can be enough to trigger a “fight or flight” response. What is more, “fight” doesn’t necessarily mean a physical altercation or use of weapons. In the context of physical courage, “fight” simply involves meeting a particular challenge head on, without avoidance.

Returning to Admiral Tarrant’s question, “Where do we get such men?” and rephrasing it to ask “Where does courage come from?” There are several answers to that question, it’s not as vague as you might think.

There is a physiological reason for courage. Researchers discovered by a very unique (and bizarre) experiment involving snakes and an MRI machine. The Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, strapped test subjects in an MRI machine with a snake suspended mere inches above their heads. Using the MRI to track brain activity, researchers identified the specific area of the brain associated with courage, the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (SaCC). Using human’s natural snakes to stimulate a fear response, test subjects reported their level of fear as the snake was moved closer and closer until their fear became greater than their courage.

It’s an interesting experiment. As researchers are able to determine the role that hormones and pheromones play in the attraction between boys and girls yet cannot define “love”, neither can a purely physiological explanation satisfy our curiosity about the source of courage. As I have said many times before, humans are more complex than merely our biology. Surely biology can influence courage – a large person in a crowd of small ones is more apt to be courageous than the opposite. But when it comes to courage, biology is not the determining factor.

History is populated with stories of unexpected heroism from unlikely people. The 98-pound weakling who stands up to the bully on the school yard, and the grandmother who faces down the burglar are legendary, in part because it is documented and has repeated occurrences. Movie makers have repeatedly made films about the plucky young person who saves the day while facing down a larger and more ferocious enemy. Do these real, and fictional, people have an oversized “courage center” in their brains?

Perhaps, but I’d like to think it’s more than that.

Next week, more on what courage IS and ISN’T.


Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

Sign up for my mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders ebook as a thank you!

 

My Favorite BE – To Be Authentically Free

Posted Leave a commentPosted in The Five Be's

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be spotlighting ideas and concepts from my book, The Five Be’s, in advance of the release of the Second Edition in September. Over the last two weeks, we discussed authentic pride in oneself and highlighted a really cool young entrepreneur. This week, it’s all about being authentically free.

When I say, “Be Free,” what comes to mind? Does it mean doing whatever we want? Well, what if I told you that to be authentically free we won’t be doing whatever we want to do, but that we’re able to choose what’s good for us?

What Freedom Isn’t

Our own passions and appetites can be those metaphorical chains that keep us bound. Being hindered from choosing good things for ourselves in order to be healthy is the definition of slavery. The fact that sometimes people make poor choices isn’t really news. In fact, there are entire industries that have grown up around treating various addictions from substance abuse to porn to shopping and even internet use. Whenever we allow our appetites to begin to force choices on us, we’re no longer free. So even though we have have “freely” chosen to make that first internet purchase, once we lose the ability to stop maxing out that credit card we’re no longer free. As I used to tell my Airmen, “Beer and XBox is not a hobby.”

Authentic Freedom

Authentic freedom means we’re truly able to make our own choices and we’re not bound by our appetites and passions. As St John Paul II once said, “It’s the freedom to do what we ought.” It might seem like a no brainer, but often choosing what’s good for us requires sacrifice. To be physically fit, or successful in business, or a good father, we have to put in the work and master ourselves. Sometimes it’s not fun to get up at 5am to go to the gym, but the results are worth the effort. That same principle applies to every other part of our life as well. If we’re authentically free, we’ll be able to choose to make the sacrifice in order to gain something good.

Rules are Rules

Being free does not mean we don’t have to follow the rules. What it does mean is we voluntary chose to take on those rules for ourselves. It’s not a very difficult concept, really, and we do it each time we get in the car. By obeying the traffic laws and signage, we are free to go anywhere we like and arrive safely. When we flaunt those rules and disobey the law we put ourselves and others in danger. When I was at Texas A&M, we ascribed to the Aggie Code of Honor: An Aggie will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those who do. In accepting the title of Texas Aggie, we bound ourselves to that Code. Living by that Code gave us all kinds of freedom, namely in the trust we could place in our fellow Aggies and confidence in our own academic ability. Do the work, adhere to the Code, gain wisdom and knowledge.

Be Free

Being authentically free is foundational to being the a healthy and successful person. It’s the reason “Be Free” is my favorite “BE.”


Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

Sign up for my mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders ebook as a thank you!

 

Seizing the Opportunity

Posted Leave a commentPosted in The Five Be's

Today’s post will be a little different than usual, but it has a tie back to The Five Be’s as well as a really cool story about a hard-working young entrepreneur.

Bella is the Bomb

One of the best parts of moving to a new community is seeing as extraordinary what fades into the background for others. So it was that on our first weekend in our new hometown of New Braunfels, Texas, we came across Erin Christman and her daughter Bella. Erin is a jewelry designer, and at her New Braunfels Farmers’ Market booth we noticed something definitely not-jewelry. Slime. Yep, that squishy stuff you can make with Elmers’ Glue and other ingredients.

When we stopped to ask about the slime, young Bella appeared with smiles and plenty of explanation about how it was made. She mentioned her Etsy store and Instagram account that she’d already sold a bunch to kids around the country. I think that is incredibly cool. Taking the initiative to see an opportunity in the current slime craze shows a lot of foresight and entrepreneurial spirit. It’s rare in adults, and it’s gratifying to see it in young people. I’m sure her parents are very proud of her, and they should be!

Get Out There and Get After It

The underlying message of The Five Be’s is being the successful and happy person God made us to be. Being secure in ourselves, authentically free, and seeking to live a virtuous and balanced life opens doors we might not even know are there. It takes courage, of course, but that courage is easier to find when we are living an authentic life. Every person has something to offer, that’s the shorthand for “Be Proud of Who You Are.” I know it sounds simple, but it’s really true! Once we recognize the worth of others and of ourselves, lots of good things flow from that truth.

Congrats to Bella for her entrepreneurial spirit and for seizing the opportunity, and well-done Erin for raising a great young person!


Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’s.

Sign up for my mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders ebook as a thank you!

 

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Be Authentically Proud of Who You Are

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Being proud of who you are is really about understanding your self-worth. Consider the following story:

There was a woman who worked for me who suffered from a crisis of confidence in her own worth. She was extremely technically competent in her job, a friend to those around her, and a good leader. Her lack of confidence, however, manifested itself in how she valued her own sense of worth–she defined it by what people thought of her and the “face” she presented to the world. One day I learned that she’d bought a car she couldn’t really afford because she believed someone in “her position should have the right kind of car.” Despite the fact that she couldn’t afford the payments, she was reluctant to return the car to the dealership–until I took her outside and showed her my 10-year old, beat up, unairconditioned, sun-bleached Jeep Cherokee.

“That’s your car?” she asked.

“Yep, do you think any less of me now that you know that?” I replied.

“No,” she said softly.

“Good, then give yourself permission to get a car you can afford and know we respect you for who you are, not what you own.

Authentic Pride vs Counterfeit Pride

All persons have an inherent dignity and infinite value, not because of our looks, wealth, power, accomplishments, or rank, but because we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” The United States’ Declaration of Independence includes this truth in it’s text. The idea of “all Men are created equal” is likewise central to our system of laws, military and civil. It’s in the sense of fair play required of us in business ethics. We all accept this truth when we’re playing sports or administering the law–the idea that each person has equal standing and that the “rules” should apply to everyone equally. It’s why we get offended when we learn of an athlete using performance enhancing drugs or cheating in some way; it offends our sense of “justice” and attacks the idea that “all Men are created equal.”

Therefore, it follows that just like the woman who measured her own worth in possessions and appearances, there is a difference between Authentic Pride and Counterfeit Pride. Authentic Pride builds up, Counterfeit Pride tears down. Authentic Pride is in achievement or accomplishment after hard work and sacrifice. Counterfeit Pride takes credit for others’ work. Authentic Pride is about who a person is on the inside, Counterfeit Pride is only interested in externals and appearance.

Leaders Cultivate Authentic Pride

High performing teams become that way over the long term because they become mutually supporting and proud of who they are as persons not the accomplishments of others. Many a sports team has become a bit too enamored with their legacy and forgotten to actually do the work necessary to earn it anew for themselves. When leaders cultivate a sense of authentic pride and lead people in doing the work, they cultivate high performance and grow leaders. When people are invested in building up others, they also build up themselves.

Being authentically free also means being able to choose what’s good for ourselves, without being held back by our passions and appetites. Clearly, if I’m giving up sleep to play video games and drink energy drinks all night, I’m no longer free. Substance abuse, inability to manage finances, porn, overeating, etc., all rob us of freedom in some way. We cannot be truly free until we’re able to freely choose what’s good for ourselves, and reject what harms ourselves and others.

Leaders Set The Tone

Just like the woman who looked to me for leadership on how to value her and her work, our people will count on us in some measure to inform their self worth. Remember, leaders are in the people business, and it’s often up to leaders to be sure people understand how valuable they truly are to the team because of who they are.


Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

Sign up for my mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders ebook as a thank you!

 

On Civic Virtue, Respect, and Followership

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Jose Ferrer as Navy Lt Greenwald, “The Caine Mutiny” (Columbia Pictures, 1954)

Ever work for someone or have to be deferential to someone you didn’t respect or didn’t like? Fortunately for me, all the men and women I reported directly to were people I did respect. Civic virtue demands we understand how to respect the office rather than just the office holder.

Respect the Rank and the Office

Of course, and there’s a variety of ways to deal with a situation where the office holder isn’t necessarily someone we can respect personally, some good and some, well, not so good. No matter what, we always respect the rank, or the office, regardless of whether we respect the man or woman wearing it. In truth, there’s really only one way professionals–make that adults–deal with the idea that we respect the “rank” even when we don’t respect the man wearing it. We use the proper titles and terms of address for others, and for Heaven’s sake, capitalize the name of God whether we believe in Him or not. We say “yes, sir” and “yes, ma’am” when speaking to officials, and each other. We don’t use foul language in public. The respect we show isn’t necessarily to the office holder–its to the office itself. Particularly in our American experience, office holders are transitory–but the ideals that hold our country together are not. When we show respect for the rank and the office, we are endorsing the ideals behind them that bind us together.

Civil Virtue Builds Societies

While a lack of respect for others is certainly not a new phenomenon, it has been very disheartening to me how coarse our language has become, and how little respect we show each other both online and in person. I think it’s time to revisit the idea of civic virtue–those virtues and ideals that put the civil peace ahead of our own desire to express ourselves. In fact, these days we talk a lot about “rights.” While everyone has a right to be rude, it’s destructive to the civil peace and ultimately to the person being rude. Being authentically free is not doing whatever we want, it’s being free of shackles so we choose whats good for us. I once heard a protocol officer remind her staff that the purpose of custom and protocol was to ensure everyone knew what to do and therefore everyone felt more comfortable. Civic virtue–civility–does the same thing. When we know the people we are interacting with will treat us with respect, we are much more likely to return that respect. The stress level lowers, the conversation centers on issues rather than personality. Oh, I know, the “yellow dog press” of the past always printed salacious things, and of course people being people we have always had bouts of incivility. But until recently, that was not the norm and it was not accepted in most company. There is a great deal to be said about good manners.

Right On Mr Greenwald

Which brings us to Jose Ferrer’s “Lt Greenwald” and lessons from film, and from a more civil time. Sometimes film is a great way to examine culture and even think out leadership. If you’ve never seen the 1954 film The Caine Mutiny, based on the Herman Wouk novel, then you really should. It’s one of my favorite films. Not only is The Caine Mutiny spectacularly good film making, it also gives some insight into virtues like loyalty, leadership, & followership. (Spoiler Alert)

What I think is a particularly good lesson in this film is the idea of respect for a position or office, even when we might not “like the cut of his suit” as Mr Greenwald (Jose Ferrer) says. While life is not a US Navy destroyer in a life-threatening gale, there is something to be said about respecting the position and being loyal to an institution even when respect for the person is difficult. In this case, the extreme situation of relieving the captain of the ship in order to save it would likely not been necessary if the officers had shown the most modest respect and loyalty to their boss. That respect for the “office” is how professionals act–not out of self-interest or on a personal agenda. In the Air Force we call that virtue “Service Before Self.” As a civic virtue, it’s called “patriotism” or “loyalty,” even “civic duty.” That’s the real lesson of the film. Had the officers of the Caine put their ship and their mission, and yes, even their captain’s welfare, ahead of their own there would not have been a mutiny. No careers destroyed, no ship and crew in peril in a storm.

Those virtues don’t just work in film, they work in the real world, too.

 


Mickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

Sign up for my mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders ebook as a thank you!

 

What Is Courage? (Part I)

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Memorial Day is approaching and I thought a couple of posts on the subject of courage was in order. I’m pleased to bring you an excerpt from my book The 5 Be’s for Starting Out as a two-part series on courage.

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Lt Harry Brubaker (William Holden) writing in a scene from the film The Bridges at Toko-ri (Paramount Pictures photo)
Lt Harry Brubaker (William Holden) writing in a scene from the film The Bridges at Toko-ri (Paramount Pictures photo / Getty Images)

Admiral Tarrant from the film The Bridges at Toko-Ri asked, “Where do we get such men?” The line is delivered near the end of the film, when the main character fails to return to the aircraft carrier after a mission, and Tarrant looks out at the busy deck and wonders where these men come from and why they serve. That question is a fundamental question people often ask of those who demonstrated courage, and then ask themselves when they look in the mirror. Maybe a better way to ask that question when applied to ourselves is: Where does courage come from?

Here’s my definition: Physical courage is the ability to overcome fear and do what’s necessary in order to survive, save a life, accomplish a mission, or excel despite physical or psychological barriers.

Using this definition of physical courage obviously concerns overcoming external obstacles. To simplify, demonstrating physical courage is overcoming the “fight or flight” instinct., and choosing to fight. Physical courage results in facing danger or the threat of pain to accomplish a goal. Note the danger doesn’t have to be real – the mere threat of danger or pain can be enough to trigger a “fight or flight” response. What is more, “fight” doesn’t necessarily mean a physical altercation or use of weapons. In the context of physical courage, “fight” simply involves meeting a particular challenge head on, without avoidance.

Returning to Admiral Tarrant’s question, “Where do we get such men?” and rephrasing it to ask “Where does courage come from?” There are several answers to that question, it’s not as vague as you might think.

There is a physiological reason for courage. Researchers discovered by a very unique (and bizarre) experiment involving snakes and an MRI machine. The Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, strapped test subjects in an MRI machine with a snake suspended mere inches above their heads. Using the MRI to track brain activity, researchers identified the specific area of the brain associated with courage, the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (SaCC). Using human’s natural snakes to stimulate a fear response, test subjects reported their level of fear as the snake was moved closer and closer until their fear became greater than their courage.

It’s an interesting experiment. As researchers are able to determine the role that hormones and pheromones play in the attraction between boys and girls yet cannot define “love”, neither can a purely physiological explanation satisfy our curiosity about the source of courage. As I have said many times before, humans are more complex than merely our biology. Surely biology can influence courage – a large person in a crowd of small ones is more apt to be courageous than the opposite. But when it comes to courage, biology is not the determining factor.

History is populated with stories of unexpected heroism from unlikely people. The 98-pound weakling who stands up to the bully on the school yard, and the grandmother who faces down the burglar are legendary, in part because it is documented and has repeated occurrences. Movie makers have repeatedly made films about the plucky young person who saves the day while facing down a larger and more ferocious enemy. Do these real, and fictional, people have an oversized “courage center” in their brains? Perhaps, but I’d like to think it’s more than that.


 

Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and blogs.

Capt Rickenbacher had courage. Read more about courage in The 5 Be's for Starting Out

Be Courageous

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Capt Rickenbacher had courage. Read more about courage in The 5 Be's for Starting Out“Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage without fear.”– Eddie Richenbacker, World War I flying ace

There are as many definitions of the word “courage” as there are people. Courage can take many forms, but we generally think of courage in two main categories: physical courage and moral courage.

When we think about “courage,” the first example that comes to mind, is the soldier or the first responder. We envision them facing danger in order to save the life of an innocent or defend their country from an unrelenting enemy. Perhaps we think about the terrible attacks of September 11, and the brave first responders racing up the stairs of the World Trade Center to rescue people trapped in the flames. Other cases include the spectacular heroism of the passengers of United Flight 93, regaining control of their aircraft from the terrorists, but were unable to prevent its tragic destruction.

There are also other forms of physical courage in the field of sports and adventure. Picture the big wave surfer riding the 40 foot face of a monster wave at Jaws off the Maui coast, or the climber conquering his own fear in order to scale the sheer cliff face. When we think of courage we might picture something more comical, such as the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz, where we can laugh at the vaudeville humor while rooting for the Lion to find his courage.

Over the next two weeks I’ll explore the idea of courage–in all its forms–and see what it takes to Be Courageous. What we have to decide for ourselves, however, is how to find our own courage. We may never have to face down a terrorist or charge into a burning building, but we will have to find a way to Be Courageous in our own way in our own lives.

Most of the post above is taken from the my book The 5 Be’s for Starting Out, available at Lulu, Amazon, and other online retailers.


Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world.  He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own Leading Leaders blog, and GeneralLeadership.com.

Be Balanced

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I believe that being successful means having a balance [in] life. You can’t truly be considered successful in your business life if your home life is in shambles.

– Zig Ziglar

 

 

When my son was very young, he would give me the same advice as I left for work each day: “Goodbye, Daddy, have a good day at work. Be sure to drink your water, eat your lunch, and make new friends.” Without realizing it, my son was encouraging me to live a balanced life. I always thought his farewell each day was far more insightful than just a small boy’s simple advice. In fact, it’s a great way to think about life balance.

My own model for thinking about the complexity of the average human is Mind, Body, and Spirit. No matter how you model the facets of the human person, the takeaway is that humans are multi-dimensional. Therefore, we all should be deliberate about developing our whole person and not just one aspect. Each person has a body, mind, and the intangible part of themselves called a soul or human spirit. There is more to every person than meets the eye.

Body-Mind-Spirit
Mickey’s Model of the Human Person

Being a well rounded person means trying to determine what motivates and fulfills you, and then intentionally working to harmonize those very personal needs with the needs of your family, team, or workplace. It’s more than a mere transaction; leaders must recognize that their team is more than names on an organizational chart. Each is a person with needs and aspirations of their own, who have come together to do a job for their own reasons. As individuals, we need to understand our personal engagement with those around us is just as important as our self-awareness.

The companies consistently rated ‘best to work for’ seem to understand that idea. Those companies provide benefits that let the employees know they are valued for more than just their contribution to the bottom line, but also valued as people. In each case, the employees at the top rated companies enjoy their work environment; the benefits provided are a bonus. The companies that treat their employees as whole persons, with more than a single dimension, are the ones who get the most engaged and involved employees, in return.

Living life balance is challenging. There are a lot of demands on a person’s time: work, family, friends, hobbies, etc., and finding time to feed all aspects of the body and soul is key to any successful life. Anyone can put their head down and power through life, however, it takes a mature person to understand that how you live is equally important as what you accomplish. Keeping our lives in balance and living an integrated life is important to everyone. The next time you look at yourself in the mirror, stop for a minute and remember the words of my then four year old son: “drink your water, eat your lunch, and make new friends.”

The above is an edited excerpt from my book The 5 Be’s for Starting Out, available at Lulu, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and many other retailers.

 

Temperance: Not Just for Carrie Nation

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Turkey Trot 5K USAFA 2103Temperance is the practice of self-control, moderation and abstinence.

Whenever we think of the word “Temperance,” many probably think of Carrie Nation and Prohibition. While moderation or even abstention from alcohol can be Temperance, it is actually a narrow view of it as a virtue. Temperance applies to keeping competing appetites in balance, similar to the way high achieving athletes and scholars train their minds and bodies. In a few words, Temperance means governing your natural human appetites in a way that preserves freedom and prevents harm.

Researchers found that children with who practice good self-control, (i.e., typically better at paying attention, persist with difficult tasks, and suppress inappropriate or impulsive behaviors), are much more likely to find and retain employment as adults, spending 40% less time unemployed than those with a lower capacity for self-control.

“All things in moderation” is a common phrase to describe Temperance, and it works in general, For example, an occasional glass of wine with dinner is fine and even thought to be healthy by some researchers. However, habitual excessive drinking is destructive to the body and relationships. Food is necessary for life, and good food is a pleasure – overindulging or eating unhealthy food intentionally is destructive. Even the internet and video games can be transformed from a fun activity or useful tool into soul crushing addictions if we allow it.

Temperance is the exercise of the will, to enjoy what’s good without letting it become an addiction. It does not need to be one of the “common” vices, simple unhealthy attachment to things can become personally destructive.

For example, take the attachment to “things”. Moving as often as I have during my military career, my family has had the unique opportunity to eliminate a lot of ‘stuff’. We have been fairly successful at paring our belongings down to a necessary minimum, mostly voluntarily but sometimes involuntarily, when things are lost or broken during shipment. Consequently, there are very few things that are truly precious to any of us, and the items that are precious to us have sentimental rather than monetary value. Each time movers (strangers) have come to my home to box up our household and then load everything onto a truck, we have to come to grips with what is really important. We hold our breath and entrust those same strangers to deliver everything we possess to a new house, a new assignment. When the house is empty and the papers are signed, watching the truck drive away forces me to remember that “it’s only stuff”. Each time in this situation, my family is offered the opportunity to practice a little Temperance.

The polar opposite example of Temperance with our “stuff” is hoarding. You might be familiar with the television show that is similarly named.  The people the cast and producers are trying to help, have let “stuff” completely take over their lives. By allowing their homes to overflow with possessions (and debris), they often forfeited relationships with family and friends, and frequently endangered their own health. Without Temperance and the ability to prioritize appropriately, competing appetites will control us until we are no longer free. Without Temperance, our own appetites and passions can enslave us and cause us harm.

Athletes understand this virtue very well, as they discipline their minds and bodies in order to achieve success in their sport. They may take on a special or restrictive diet, they may trade sleep for workouts, and they eschew certain celebrations, or even common comforts, in order to be their best. This sort of mental, physical, and spiritual preparation is a commonly proven way for athletes to succeed. We applaud that sort of self-control in them, but is it really out of reach for us?

Of course not. We all have practice applying Temperance, at a variety of levels. I believe the virtue of Temperance, applied in a sensible way that respects Universal Human Goods, is a necessary component to living a healthy adult life. Whenever we delay gratification or order our priorities toward a specific end, we are practicing Temperance. So, when we stay late to finish the presentation that is due tomorrow, we are subsuming our own personal comfort because others are counting on us. When we make sure to leave on time to meet our spouse for dinner, we are balancing our time for the spouse we vowed to “love, honor, and cherish”. When we decline dessert so we can stick to our diet, when we turn off Call of Duty to help our kids with their homework, and when we delay our lunch to comfort a coworker having a bad day –  those are demonstrations of te Temperance.

Let Carrie Nation bury the hatchet, those of us with a balanced sense of Temperance will continue to grow and become “more free” by gaining an ability to control our own appetites.

Justice as a Virtue?

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justiceAccording to Aristotle, Justice is the proper moderation between self-interest, the rights and needs of others, and rendering to each person what is deserved.

We most often think of “Justice” in the legal sense: the system of enforcement of laws, including punishment for committing crimes. But the virtue of Justice is much more than merely administering laws and regulations. At a basic level, the essence of justice is that people are given their due. There is a measure of precision in Justice, because to do so requires a person to weigh and measure what another deserves. Unlike the other three virtues which deal primarily with self-governing, Justice is a virtue that applies to how we treat others.

How does the ordinary person employ the virtue of Justice? Is Justice only for courts and police? Of course not.

Like all the virtues, the ordinary person can develop the virtue of Justice by treating others fairly in their common dealings. Paying a fair price for what you buy is Justice, as is repaying a loan promptly and in full. Taking responsibility for a failure in the workplace and not allowing another to take the blame is also a form of Justice. In fact, we have the opportunity to apply Justice in all of our personal, professional and familial relationships. Justice need not have a negative connotation, such as “bringing a criminal to Justice.” It can, and should be, a positive virtue where we understand and willingly accept our responsibilities to others.

Like all virtues, we can abuse Justice as well. If we weigh competing needs unequally, or a person’s application or desire for Justice overwhelms Universal Human Goods (such as Truth), then Justice can easily transform into the vices vengeance or lawlessness. Justice as a virtue is not an end in and of itself – it is a means where we, as individuals and as a society, protect human dignity.

Justice’s other traveling companion is Mercy. Mercy allows us to temper raw justice so we respect Universal Human Goods and inflict no unnecessary harm in the name of Justice. For example, in many countries, automobile operators are considered “professional drivers” and are criminally liable for vehicular accidents. Justice demands criminal sanction in some cases, but Mercy applied by those in authority, when appropriate, prevents people from going to jail for routine “fender benders”.

Raw Justice would fill jails, Mercy ensures only actual criminals go there.

If Your Friends All Jumped Off A Cliff…

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Cliff-Jumping-in-Lago-Vista-TexasPrudence is the ability for one to determine what is appropriate at any given time.

In the virtue of Prudence, we find the ability to make sound choices in the real world – choices that either expose us and others to danger or shield us from it.

 

A personal story might be helpful here, as it illustrates a lack of prudence that could have cost me my life, and how the common choices we make sometimes have profound consequences. My college friends and I were inner-tubing down the Guadalupe River near San Antonio, Texas and came upon the spot known as the “Blue Hole.” It was a very deep spot in the river, and is probably connected to a subterranean aquifer. It was a local tradition for people to leap from an overhanging rock face into the Blue Hole. My initial answer to the invitation was, “No, thank you”. However, once the boys swam away, leaving me alone with all the girls, my testosterone got the better of me and I raced to join them. I had a couple of chances to back out, including looking over the 20-foot drop-off, down to the water below. I didn’t use the proper judgment – I wasn’t prudent enough to back out even though I really did not want to jump.

My companions counted to three and we all stepped off the precipice – I instantly regretted my decision. “This was a dumb idea,” I thought as I plummeted to the water below, along with six other boys, all within an arms’ reach of each other. We hit the water so hard, and I went so deep that I nearly ran out of air before I made it back to the surface. There were a hundred things that could have gone wrong, and we were very lucky that no one was hurt. That experience was a great lesson in Prudence for me – that I should listen to my inner voice when it is shouting at me to pay attention

There are other ways to demonstrate Prudence besides deciding not to jump off 20-foot high rocks. The virtue of Prudence is also helpful when making ordinary decisions, such as what to eat for dinner, or whether to accelerate through a yellow traffic light (or not). In fact, it’s the daily small choices that define us far more than the big ones.

Be Free – Part II

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Moby_1In Part I, I put forth the idea that “freedom” is not simply doing whatever we want, but doing what’s good and in a way that builds ourselves and others up. To illustrate, we will look at traffic controls which are tools such as traffic signals, signage, speed limits, and pavement markings. Traffic controls restrict the flow of vehicular traffic on roads and highways to comply with specific safety rules and guidelines. A superficial look at traffic controls would imply that traffic controls restrict a driver’s freedom, but the opposite is actually the case.  Imagine how dangerous roads would be without speed limits, signage or lane markings.

What fascinates me about addiction and obsessive behavior is that people would choose an altered state of consciousness that’s toxic and ostensibly destroys most aspects of your normal life, because for a brief moment you feel okay.

– Moby, musician-songwriter

The opposite of freedom is not “just” confinement or restriction. As we will discuss in the next section, Aristotle’s philosophy of the Golden Mean, is that virtue lies in the middle between the extremes of vice.However, with appropriate traffic controls, we have the freedom to safely travel wherever we like. We can feel safe travelling at high speeds on the highway since we know that our fellow motorists will also be following the guidelines ensuring safe travel for all. Appropriate behavioral controls permit us to remain free, and in this case unharmed.

Therefore, on one end of the “freedom continuum” lies slavery, and on the other lies license. Just as slavery is the abuse of freedom to hold another unjustly bound, license likewise is an abuse of freedom since it binds our own will to our appetites or passions. The newspaper is brimming with stories of people who abused their own freedom either through the self-abuse or by allowing others to abuse them. “Excessive freedom” is as much a problem as a complete lack of freedom, and in fact ends up in the same place: slavery. On the ends of the “freedom continuum” is slavery to others and slavery to appetites – both are self-destructive.

As a military officer, I often remind my Airmen that the Air Force doesn’t set standards of behavior to hinder their freedom (i.e., regulations). Rather, we set standards of behavior to keep them safe and healthy, ready to accomplish our mission – to have the defense of our countrymen in our hands is a serious responsibility.

When Airmen violate these standards, leaders must do their duty and hold them accountable – this is justice. Furthermore, being held accountable is actually good for morale. The consequences for violating military standards range from minor to severe, depending on the seriousness of the offense, and always entails some sort of penalty such as a fine, extra duty, or demotion of rank. When others see an offender receive their just deserts for violating the rules or the law, it reinforces their confidence in their leaders and each other.

To summarize, true freedom does not come at someone else’s expense and true freedom doesn’t result from selfishness or self-centeredness. True freedom comes from serving others and respecting both our own and others’ dignity. True freedom enables us to grow as human persons.