My friends, rarely do I ever know on any given day exactly where my latest idea for a commentary will come from. Many times it is an example from one of my loyal, regular readers out there around the world. Sometimes a telling example comes roaring into my life from one of my three great children. At other times, my thoughts turn to a mistake I might happen to see in the world around me.
This visit with you came from a fairly unlikely source: The C-Span television network. I do not know how it happened, but I found myself eating a pleasant bit of lunch and watching the distinguished United States Senator Robert Byrd discussing his latest proposal to enhance our Homeland Defense posture. Since this is a topic near and dear to my heart, I sat down my newspaper and listened.
At some point, Senator Byrd yielded time to Senator Byron Dorgan from North Dakota, who sought to speak in support of Senator Byrd's proposition. The good Senator seemed to be calling upon his colleagues for a bit of action. He wished to challenge them to step up to the plate and show some leadership with regard to the issue at hand. He began his speech with a short anecdote from one of our founding fathers, President John Adams. This particular story spoke of a time when Adams was concerned about the battles surrounding the great issues of independence.
As you might imagine our founding fathers were battling at that time to create the means for declaring their independence from England. Many of the citizens in the crowds of that day were probably strongly negative. How, they might have opined, could we do such a thing? Independence from England, why? We’ve never done it that way. How can we expect to succeed at something no one else has ever done?
I can only imagine the pressures that must have weighed heavily upon those men who were gathered together in the years just before we declared our independence from Great Britain. They were making hard decisions that had life or death decisions. Surely great wisdom and common sense were called for.
Think about it folks, the rewards were potentially great. However, the negative consequences could be truly fatal. Had they been caught, they could have been tried, convicted, and executed as traitors to the King. Far greater consequence than you or I usually face in our daily lives.
In a letter to his wife Abigail, Adams bemoaned the fact that he was concerned about leadership. Quoting Adams, Dorgan offered the following comment from Adams’ letter. “Where are the leaders,” he said. He went on to wonder who was going to offer the leadership for this time and place. He stated that there are only Washington, Franklin, Madison, and Jefferson. What are we to do was his question.
Poor John Adams, he did not have the benefit of history to guide him at that particular moment. He had no idea how well it would all turn out. Over two and a quarter centuries later, we now know where the leadership came from. The leaders were those very people he mentioned who, when faced with hard times and hard decisions, called upon their reserves of intelligence, integrity, and guts, and did what we would call today, “the right thing.”
Senator Dorgan also spoke of one person for whom he did not feel any great historical appreciation. He spoke of how President Herbert Hoover was accused of just sitting around and waiting to see what happened. When leadership was called for, history tells us that Hoover sat on his hands as we sank deeper into the depths of a spiraling Depression.
My friends, we too might choose to ask a similar question. Where are the fire service leaders of the future? Who is going to take up the traces of leadership from those who are doing the job today? Given many of the poor examples which exist to day, this is a valid question. My friends, the answer is really quite simple.