I was for the Bailout. I was against the Bailout. I’m for cutting taxes. I’m against taxing the wealthy. I’m for abortion. I’m for making life begin at conception. Sound familiar? Well, I promised you I wouldn’t talk politics in this blog and I still won’t. But it’s high-season in Washington and political junkies that we are at Chez Mount, we’ve been watching every state primary like it was the Summer Olympics. What strikes me is that each day these candidates have to meet with hundreds (if not thousands) of people and declare what they are for or against. Regardless of what side of the political aisle you stand on, you’ve got to admire these folks who run for office. It’s hard work getting up day after day being questioned, challenged, mocked or even cheered on for what you believe. Most of us would rather go quietly on with our day to day lives than get up in a public forum and talk about what we believe. And that got me thinking.
I’ve started to think more about this when I became a mother. What values did I want to pass on to my son? What did I hope to teach him about the world around him? What am I for? As I get older and wiser, I find it increasingly easier to articulate what I stand for. It didn’t develop over night. It came from my parents who talked about growing up during segregation and how wrong it is to discriminate against anyone regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or ability. It came from years of working in the PR industry and developing strong beliefs about the kind of career I wanted to have and how I wanted it to be an expression of who I am — not just a paycheck. It came from traveling around the globe starting at age 19 and realizing the incredible richness and diversity of the people I met. It came from thinking about the kind of world I wanted to leave behind for my son and how I could pay it forward.
How do you know what you stand for? For some it comes through a spiritual crisis. The other night Dr. D. and I watched a film called Courageous. It was the story of five men in the midst of five very different spiritual crises. One of the men, Javier, was struggling to find a steady, well-paying job. He was the sole breadwinner for his family of five and had recently gotten a much needed job at a thread plant. He did so well in that new job that the plant manager offered him the job of managing inventory. It would mean a title change and a big raise. There was one catch. Javier would have to report that the plant received less inventory than it really had. He would have to lie. The plant manager gave him 24 hours to decide if he wanted the job. Javier agonized. His wife cried telling him they could barely pay their bills as it was. What would happen if he turned the job down? Would he get fired for not going along? After much soul searching, Javier went back to the plant manager and told him he couldn’t accept the job. The plant manager assured him no one would ever know that he lied. Javier countered that he would know and that he couldn’t betray his values, his family or his faith. The plant manager smiled and told Javier he had the job. He passed the test. He dug deep to discover his true beliefs and stuck to them.
Yesterday a colleague sent me a copy of the scathing Op-Ed cum public resignation letter from ex-Goldman Sachs executive Greg Smith. The letter was the kind of F -You letter many us dream of writing when we leave a job feeling disgruntled and injured. In it (and it’s worth a read) Smith slams his former employer for putting profit and agreed ahead of client interest. He lashes out at Goldman Sach’s culture and questions the firm’s moral integrity. Smith worked for the firm, arguably the world’s most powerful and influential investment bank, for 12 years. I’m sure his letter will be analyzed and deconstructed for the next few media cylcles. But the question I ask (and many commenters are wondering the same), what made him pull such an (some might argue self-destructive) move now?
Smith gave multiple reasons for why he believed his former employer has failed its clients and its commitment to leading the industry. But his letter still left unanswered questions for me. I couldn’t glean any insight into what beliefs truly motivated him to leave his firm in such a public, grenade-throwing manner. Had he secretly been diagnosed with a life-altering illness that is making him reevaluate his life? Had he finally looked deeply at the catastrophe wrought by the financial services industry and felt soul-crushing guilt for his own complicity? Or maybe he just got tired of being part of a firm that was deemed a robber baron in the court of public opinion. I’d like to think that Greg Smith maybe finally woke up one day and really looked at the essential truths of who he was, what he believed and how aligned his life was with those beliefs. And when confronted wiht those essential truths and beliefs, he realized he could no longer work for a company like Goldman Sachs. But who knows?
I guess the point is that it’s not an easy thing to figure out what you stand for. For many of us it will take some kind of crisis to put us on or near the ledge. That crisis will test our faith and force us to decide who we really are and what we really believe.
“If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything” is one of my favorite quotes and I always think of it during the more trying times in my life. What am I for? For sure, it’s not an easy thing to figure out. I know I’m a work in progress. I know where I want to head (well, mostly).
I’m for a making sure my son has a clear-eyed view of the world and his responsbility to it.
I’m for helping to create a community that doesn’t tolerate sexism, racism, or homophobia.
I’m for using the amazing blessings I’ve been given to advocate for women and children around the world.
I’m for honoring the blessing of my good health and using that good health to try to reach my potential everyday.
I’m for challenging my own biases and hangups with knowledge and exposure.
I’m for trying to put a more good in the world than I’ve taken out.
I’m for living a life with purpose and not taking any day I’m given for granted.
What will you be for?
Excellent piece, very astute and thought-provoking. Can I just say ditto seven times to that last set of questions? And add that I’m for taking ALL education opportunities with the goal of Conscious Competence. It sets the profound thinkers apart to challenge their own thoughts and biases, because I see far too much evidence of the Dunning-Kruger effect these days!
Heather, I love the idea of Conscious Competence. I’d underscore concious because so much happens in our lives that is auto-pilot (guilty here, but working very hard to change that). Yes and you are so right about the Dunning-Kruger effect. Hopefully, it’s just a passing phase in where our society is at these days. Or maybe that’s wishful thinking. So glad you stopped by!
Very thought-provoking post, Portia. I think that many of us actually have a good idea of what we stand for subconsciously. But, caught up as we are in day-to-day demands and distractions, it takes some kind of serious event to force it to the surface. We’d be better served by periodically making time to consciously reflect on what matters to us — and, thanks to your post, I might just do that.
Stephen, I think that’s a really good point. I think most of us really do know what we believe but it’s so buried that we don’t really think about it until we have to. I also agree that the key is reflection (and finding time for that is another blog post!). Appreciate your thoughtful comment.
Oh wow, very inspiring piece. I am for living a life with intentions. And this applies to what I eat, drink, read, etc. I want my life to be purposeful and not tailored to what is in vogue. Thanks for this wonderful piece.
Thanks, Blessing! I agree. I strive to focus on what fulfills my purpose rather than what’s popular or what other people expect of me. Sometimes hard to put into practice but worth the effort!