We are what we do

Everyone needs a dog. Dogs cut through the verbal mumbo-jumbo that we humans pass off as our intentions and purposes in life. All they know is action. Our dog Thor only knows us through our actions. He loves us and is loyal to us because we scratch his head, throw him a tennis ball and steal firewood from him so that he can chase us. Thor only knows us through our actions toward him. Because Thor is simple like that, he makes it simpler for us as a family to love each other. Thank you, Thor.

Over the past few weeks, I've met a guy, who will go nameless, who, through his blog, has introduced me to a woman, whom I've now met, who will also go nameless because of her story. She personifies a principle that I believe is important for leaders to understand. Her story in moment.
I meet people all the time who tell me their stories. What is compelling in their stories is not their rationale or their interpretation of it, but rather their description of the actions they have taken to get where they are.

Thirty years ago, when I was in seminary, there was an idea floating around some churches, and is still prevalent today under different names, that all you had to do is claim God's blessing, and it was yours. It was dubbed, "Name and Claim It." What I found then was that for the vast majority of people who accepted this belief system, it was an invitation to passivity, an entitlement mindset and the self-deception of blaming others for their own failure to act. Believing in "Name and Claim It" became an emotional narcotic that was not fed by action, but by constantly seeking out new inspiration to believe in the idea. I find it sad and incidious.

My assessment of this success faith is that it is a parasite on the richer tradition of individual freedom and entrepreneurism. It is parasitic because the belief suggests that all you must do to be successful is place an idea in your head, and it will come true. Not so, every successful person I know has worked hard to get ahead and stay ahead. There is no magic to becoming a successful person. Even the luckiest, gain and keep their success through hard work and perseverance through the many transition points that are required to create a successful life.

I set up this woman's story with this conceptual context because of what she did, not what she said she did. I leave her name out, simply to respect the anonymity of her actions. What she did was not done for fame or recognition, but rather to be herself, to live an authentic life, each and everyday. I honor her action by not granting her more public exposure than she wishes.

Let me give her the initial H as her name to make the telling of the story easier. H is a part of group of people who work in most communities as rescue workers. Her rescue work is on the water. She is the leader of a team of water rescuers. They train hard. And they put their life on the line for people every day. They are like the police officers who run toward gun fire, the firefighters who run into burning buildings, and soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen who go into the most violent places in our world to provide safety for us at home. H is in this class of person. Even before hearing her story, I had the highest level of respect for her because I know people just like her.

To know me is to understand that I place a person's actions above their intentions. I believe that we spend most of our lives rationalizing either our action or non-action. We are people prone to self-deception, and it is only through dealing with the hardest, darkest side ourselves that we discover the truth of who we genuinely are. To see this is to be free of fear of discovery, free from humiliation, free no longer to appear to be more than we truly are, and instead to act to do what we must to do be our authentic selves.

H's story is one of heroism. She was returning home to her family after a weekend of training. She comes across an automobile accident that has just happened. Let my other friend tell the story as he heard it.

Just got a call. A visceral scream was the first thing I heard. Someone unloading into their phone and I was the recipient. Confusion, alarm, concern, all the keywords one goes through when you know something bad has happened to the person on the phone with you, flashed my psyche as dread fell upon me.
I then realized that (H) was the gutteral scream. She was in her car, naked for the most part, burned, bruised, in shock. We established a rapport and I began to talk her down.
It is 12:15 AM. I am now wired and beyond alert. (H) had rung off as she reached her home in (C). I knew that she had just done a long day at sea with the military in an appreciation day that her company, ... had just put on.
In her weary drive home she had rolled up on a flame wall on the (X highway). She said that she had driven through it and that it looked like Armageddon. Pulling up to a burning car she got out and saw movement in the flames. Grabbing a prybar she broke the window and grabbed at the squirming flame ball that was a man. She said his hands had looked like candles as they burned.
There were bystanders and she screamed for help, but as sometimes happens no one moved and as she managed to gain control of the flaming man she began to pull him out and his foot caught in the debris. Screaming at the bystanders, they finally broke from shock and jumped the two. As they dragged the guy away, the car exploded.
“I smell (D), I smell like fire and burning flesh, I think I fractured my arm, I am almost home”
H thought that the car had punctured it’s tank in a collision with the guard rail, setting off the tempest. I am taking a sip of vodka right now. It burns and rasps my throat. I am worried about my friend. Emotionally peaking myself, because I love her and can do nothing. But knowing H, I understand that she will be all right. Eventually. Someone lives tonight, albeit in agony, because H was where she was supposed to be. It is her lot, this sort of thing. Lucky guy.
H always lectures us that rescue (and life) is all about seconds and feet. You have seconds in which to assess and feet in which to react. Tonight once again she illustrated her point. Seconds and feet.

H acted heroically. Talk to military people and they will tell you that the only heroes are the ones who lost their lives in battle. To be a hero is to act sacrificially, even if it means giving your life for another. This is what I see in H's action. A hero acts, not out of a desire for fame and recognition, but rather out of a commitment to serve.

The leadership principle is this. Our actions lead others, and our words follow. They are the measure of who we are. If we say one thing, and do another, we create doubt about our authenticity. If we act wrongly, and then explain it away as if it does not matter, then we have driven a wedge between ourselves and others. When we rationalize our inaction or failure, tossing blame on someone else or institution, we rob ourselves of truth, and consequently our freedom to be authentic.

Yesterday, I was introduced to another woman, and in the spirit of the post, she'll remain nameless too. I'll call herF. I have a lot of respect for her. In telling me her story, she told me how she has come to understand the power of forgiveness. For her it is not an idea for appreciation, but how she has learned to treat those who have hurt her deeply in her life. She lives forgiveness, just as H lives heroism. And she is free as a result to be her true, authentic self.

We are what we do. As leaders, how we treat people, not what we say for public consumption is what matters. This is what our family saw everyday from our dog Thor. Monday night, after two weeks of rapidly declining health, Thor, was put down. Thor was loyal, loving and a part of our family. He didn't care about my intentions or my philosophizing. All he knew were my actions toward him. All he wanted was for me to chase him, to throw firewood to him and rub his head.

Consider today what you do. You only have seconds and feet to take the right actions. There are people around you who are watching, looking for you to act in accordance with what you believe. Ideas matter, but only as they reveal our inner motivation to act. Our actions are mirror of our intentions.

We lead by actions, and our words follow. Make sure that they are one and the same, and you'll find peace and freedom, and the respect and love of others in return.

Good bye, Thor, my friend. Rest in peace