My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. ~ John F. Kennedy
One of, if not the most famous quotes in American history, President Kennedy’s words have resonated with me throughout my life. From a very early age, regardless of what my personal goals or intentions were, I always had this idea of a purpose greater than self in the back of my mind. Now make no mistake, my rearing has a great deal to do with this perspective, but I guess nothing crystallizes my deeply held notion of others before self more clearly than President Kennedy’s famous words. There have been times during my life that I wondered exactly how I was supposed to best answer this clarion call and I have struggled to find that answer, but even when the best path forward was unclear I always understood which general direction I was supposed to be heading. I know this because I have always applied this idea to every aspect of my life. Whether acting as a son, a brother, a teammate, a leader, a husband and even now as a father, I ask myself, what can I do to help? How can I best be of service to those in my life in a given situation. Later in life, during my college years, I was exposed to the idea of the Servant Leader and it changed my life. To this day, I strive to live out the ideals that Robert K. Greenleaf first laid out in his writings on the nature of servant leadership and character and through this effort I have found that it is I that have been blessed.
United States 4-Star General (ret.) Stanley McChrystal, a man former Defense Secretary Robert Gates described as “perhaps the finest warrior and leader of men in combat I (have) ever met.”, points out that only 1% of Americans serve their country via traditional avenues like the military and asks the question, “What does it mean to be a citizen?” What does it mean to be a citizen in America or any other country for that matter. In the United States there are many benefits to citizenship to be certain, but qualification for citizenship basically breaks down to two qualifiers:
- Do you have the right to vote?
- Do you pay taxes?
The reality here in the United States is that there are years where 50-plus percent of the citizens do neither. This brings us back to General McChrystal’s original question, “What does it mean to be a citizen?” Do we owe our country anything in return for the privilege of citizenship?
For General McChrystal the answer is yes and he offers a simple solution: National Service. This position is what motivated General McChrystal to lead the effort in the creation of the Franklin Project at the Aspen Institute in 2013. Learn more about their story and hear from General McChrystal himself HERE and HERE.
The Franklin Project envisions a future in which a year of full-time national service—a service year—is a cultural expectation, a common opportunity, and a civic rite of passage for every young American.
Here is a two-page pdf flyer that explains the power of a service year and the importance of the work that The Franklin Project is doing.
I happen to agree with General McChrystal that the very idea that is at the center of the foundation of what made America great, the concept that we are all looking out for and working toward the greater good of our community and the country as a whole, has somehow become disconnected from our people and is rapidly eroding right beneath our feet. That is why I fully support The Franklin Project in their efforts. Listen to some other folks that believe in the idea of service have to say on the subject…..
I believe that it is only through the blessing of service to others that we can truly realize the power of our own humanity. This power is truly great and it really can change the world. General McChrystal and The Franklin Project are working at a national level with the idea of a Year of Service, but I want to encourage you to think about this in a different way and bring it down to street level right where you live.
There are people all around us that are taking action on what has been laid upon their heart, enriching the American tapestry by doing their part to make their community, their state and their country a better place. They are working as volunteers, mentors, coaches, police officers, firemen, teachers, nurses, doctors, librarians and after school leaders. They are our elders that take the time to share a bit of what they know with a younger generation. They are sharing knowledge and teaching skills like amateur radio, basic first aid, community disaster response, gardening and basic preparedness. All across our country, there are individuals doing amazing things…large and small…every day to help create the world they want to see. Folks that are becoming the change they believe is necessary to make the world a better place for themselves and others. Some of these people are more obvious in their efforts because they wear a uniform or a they have a title, but there are far more of us out here in the fields doing real work that also classify as the every day heroes our world needs to save the day and forge a new way forward. As Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” In other words, there is no one way to make the world a better place. No one has an exclusivity on good ideas or the desire to help others. Just get started. Today.
There aren’t many holidays or parades for our every day champions of the common citizen. I believe that each and every person that is out there doing the hard work of building a better future for themselves and the rest of us deserves to be recognized for their efforts. In an upcoming blog post I will be making an announcement that will lay out a way that you can do exactly that. A way that each of us can recognize those in our personal lives, as well as in our communities that are going above and beyond in the pursuit of a better America. Please keep an eye on this space for that announcement. Until then, if you would like to further gain a better understanding of my position, my motivations and offer another perspective on why I feel the way I do, you can check out this video. And this one too. Talk to you soon.