Executive Director's Corner
A Walk in My Shoes
IN THIS DAY and time where civility clearly appears to be waning and we find ourselves in an uncertain new world order, the thought occurs to me that we need to achieve a higher level of knowledge about our fellow citizens. If a society is to survive, we simply can’t do so in our own respective silos. We are so easily divided by race, creed, religion, as well as economic and socioeconomic class, that we fall into patterns of generalization about those with whom we meet in our daily lives. Few, if any, in our chosen field of public service can stay neatly within the boundaries of individuals who are like us.
Before I graduated high school, I was fortunate enough to live in the Midwest – I was born in Iowa and later moved to Missouri. My first through seventh grade years were spent in New York, where I lived on Long Island about an hour from New York City. I lived there from 1963 until 1970 – a very volatile time in our nation’s history. I was clearly aware that I lived in a melting pot and was blessed to be surrounded by so many individuals who were not like me. I was sensitized at a very young age about the struggles, blessings, cultures, challenges, joys and pains that surrounded me in my everyday life. During my eighth grade year, my family moved to east Tennessee, where I lived in Oak Ridge. At the time, I was told that there were many individuals who held doctoral degrees, especially in the fields of science, math and engineering. This was due to the Manhattan Project, which was part of the U.S. military’s role in the development of the atomic bomb used to end World War II. What struck me about Oak Ridge was that with such a high level of education and prosperity around us, my family could travel less than 15 minutes outside of the city and could witness horrible poverty in Appalachia. This was another sobering period in my personal maturation cycle.
Due to my good fortune of traveling to three distinct regions of the country prior to high school graduation, I better understood a much wider range of individuals than if I had grown up in a single community. I amplify the fact that my professional career with ACCG – now spanning over 30 years – has allowed me to travel throughout the country and meet my peers and better understand their challenges. In addition, I was fortunate to have traveled to all 50 states before I turned 50.
What has this done for me? Quite simply, I find myself in a position that I hope is not as unique as it appears. I have been sensitized to the fact that in order for us to be capable of providing true and effective public service to our constituents, we must be very aware and constantly remember to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.
I clearly understand how unique my life story is, but I also understand that if we are to be truly successful at effective governance, we must take the time and make the effort to interact with a wide array of individuals who are not like us. There are many means to accomplishing that goal, and it is not my place to suggest how to do that, but I do encourage you to make the effort.
It is so easy to judge our fellow citizens and draw simple conclusions from media accounts or from generalizations commonly shared. The fact of the matter is that it takes time, effort, energy, passion and purpose to seek out how others truly live and what they face in their daily lives. Take the time and make the effort to walk in someone else’s shoes. You will be amazed at what confronts them each day and how they grapple simply to survive on a daily basis.
The commitment to move in this direction will impact you in many ways and that alone will make the trip worthwhile. It may also help you as an elected official to choose another path before making a final policy decision because you have had the exposure necessary to better understand how your decision will truly impact those you are governing.
We are very fortunate to be blessed with our many freedoms. Let’s not take them for granted and, more importantly, let’s challenge one another to place more value on the fact that our unique qualities improve and do not diminish our respective communities.