There have been many moments where I have witnessed the warmth, graciousness and hospitality of human beings, and my recent experience in the Peoples Republic of China this past week took that appreciation for those encounters to a new level. I was invited to share my “No Excuse!” message with approximately 1800 government and business officials in the city of Zuxhou, Jiang Su Province, a city of 9.5 million people, 375 miles south of Beijing. It would be my first visit to China and as I was flying over the North Pole en route there was excitement and a degree of anxiousness. Reflecting on the experience, words can barely express the overwhelming education I received from a human relations and personal awareness perspective. From the moment I arrived I was treated with a degree of dignity and respect that was unexpected and humbling. The arrangements made, the sites seen, the people met, and the cultural insights gained were invigorating and fulfilling. My visits to the Great Wall, the Bird’s Nest (Olympic Stadium), the Summer Palace, the Huai Hai Campaign Memorial Hall, the tomb of Gaozu the first emperor of the Han Dynasty, the recently uncovered terracotta warrior relics, lunches with CPC General Secretary Cao Xinping, Mayor of Xuzcho City Duan Xiong, and the gifts exchanged are just several of the opportunities I was provided.
However there was one event that added an element of human spirit that I was unprepared for. It was a dinner I shared with Wu Tianjun, VP and Chief Editor of Xuzcho Media; and during our meal he shared with me his time in a communist re-education camp following the Chinese Revolution of 1949. He was a young boy at the time and as I sat there listening, his comments were directed towards his belief in, and desire for, a better world. I was sitting as a stranger, an American citizen, a believer in the democratic ideals of our nation with an individual who was entrenched in the aftermath of a communist revolution, and one of the top business figures in the Xuzhou City. The enlightenment arrived when I realized we were not strangers at all. We had the same love for our community, our nation, our citizens, our family and a belief in the potential of humankind. We as individuals from different parts of the world had much more in common then we did different. We were discussing freedom, liberty and his genuine desire to learn from me how potentially to implement ideas to give his fellow citizens a belief in themselves, an understanding of the role of personal accountability, and to eliminate the practice of making excuses.
The graciousness and humility he demonstrated towards me struck an emotional cord that I will always remember and appreciate. I have always believed it is the dignity we demonstrate, mutual respect we exchange, and an apolitical approach towards issues that will always result in the betterment of lives around us. We gained an appreciation for one another, and a friendship. Things happen for reasons and all souls who meet come together for reasons. We always attract what we project regardless of whether it is a neighbor next door or a neighbor on the other side of the world. As a result of the graciousness I encountered consistently I gained an appreciation for the Chinese people, their culture and their future.
As I was an unofficial ambassador for our community of Saratoga Springs and our Nation during my visit, let us all extend graciousness and hospitality to one another and those who visit our wonderful community. It is a small world as demonstrated by my first morning in Beijing. Having breakfast, I asked a young Chinese gentleman what a particular dish was on the buffet. He provided an answer and we began to chat. As I shared with him where I was from, his faced glowed and he informed me that he had lived in Niskayuna, worked for GE, and had visited Saratoga Springs many times. Of the 1.3 billion Chinese, 303 million Americans and all the places in the world, my first morning in China I meet someone who knows where Saratoga Springs is? Are you kidding me? If only I had access to purchasing a lottery ticket that morning.
As I was sitting at my desk mulling over a topic to share with you this week, the following email popped up on my monitor. “It is with sadness that we announce the death of Capt. Paul Pena, 27, USMA class of 2004. He was killed supporting Operation Enduring Freedom on Jan. 19 in Arghandab River Valley, Afghanistan. He died of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.”. As a 1980 academy graduate I receive these notifications from West Point via our class moderator. What saddened me further was reading the attached eulogy page to this email, which read the only surviving relative of Captain Pena was his mother.
Upon reading this, my heart broke and I thought of the anguish this mother must be going through. As tears swell writing this even now, I reflect on what it means to serve and how our service to others, in all forms, defines us as individuals, as a community and yes, as a nation. I believe genuine human character is found in those who serve with sincerity, selflessness and a sense of duty for the greater good of humankind. Throughout my life it has not been one’s title, income or possessions that have impressed me most about an individual, but rather their efforts to better the society around them.
Personally, I have discovered the true character of our Saratoga Springs community not through my business dealings or my professional speaking engagements, but rather observing the service of others through my own service on the volunteer boards and committees I participate on. I have found the heart and soul of this community by meeting those who genuinely want to give back to a community that has given much to them. Service is defined as, “the action of helping or doing work for someone.”, and duty is defined as, “a moral or legal obligation; a responsibility; done from a sense of moral obligation rather than for pleasure.” Reflecting on the above death announcement, it is the ultimate example of service and duty to knowingly put your life at stake to protect the freedoms that allow me to share this column with you today. If anyone reading this is doubtful about themselves, or saddened by their circumstances, take yourself out of the picture and utilize the talents and skills that you possess through serving those around you. Volunteer, be involved, take your passion for a cause and mobilize your efforts to make that passion come to fruition. You will immediately gain a greater sense of purpose, energy, personal motivation and individual value.
There is evidence each day that validates the value of service, its impact on the world, and the personal satisfaction in brings. Service combined with a sense of moral obligation, “duty”, is and has always been, a demonstration of human spirit at its best. The more you think of others the happier you tend to be because of the value you provide to those around you. Any baggage we carry filled with self-pity, regret, self-doubt, envy, and jealousy are contents for personal destruction, and forgiveness is the opened zipper to empty such baggage. Forgiveness is freedom from hurt, nourishment for the heart and renewal for the soul. Effective personal reflection is the ability to think beyond yourself and know you have value to those around you. There are always causes beyond ourselves, and although our role may not be to the level of Captain Pena, his example inspires me to realize that we have a “duty” to be more than we are through our service to those around us. Five clarifying questions to prompt your community service are, * What are your passions? * What are your causes? * What talents do I possess that reflect my passions and can help execute my causes? * What are the core values that support my passions and define my causes? * What entities within my community can provide an open door to serve? There are moments remembered and moments discarded, but the most important moments are the ones that bring joy to others.