This is a horribly backlit photo, but it is President Obama addressing the AP Annual Luncheon in DC, and I am in the front row. If you Google “Obama April 3, 2012,” you’ll find video of his presentation that day and coverage of it, with plenty of juicy adjectives and verbs, such as “bitter,” “slammed,” “social Darwinism,” “trashes,” and, surprisingly, “marvelous,” which I’ll let you research on your own. But here’s what I know after listening to our President: there were convolutions in the data he presented that did not add up. Timeframes and numbers were not necessarily equal, but were presented as such. Of course, this happens constantly, from politicians across the board and others pressing their cases, but it made me realize: I do not want to be a person who resorts to that. That’s not my definition of success. But further, after reading a letter to the editor in the Augusta Chronicle today on gas prices, I most emphatically do not want to be a person who accepts positions on face value and does not do my own due diligence on the facts.
People: The President of the United States is not responsible for gas prices. Gas prices are driven by a variety of economic factors that primarily include supply and demand and speculation in the market, and no individual politician (or even a slew of them) can control that. Check your facts. Don’t buy in to the general position without having the facts to back it up. Be willing to do the research and confidently state your case, whether it’s to your boss, the executive committee, or your dad, and especially if it’s contratrian. Don’t be a sheeple. Be willing to have a separate opinion from those around you and those you watch on TV and listen to on the radio. What I was reminded of in DC is that discernment and self-reliance are key to personal, professional and global success.
In Athens, Greece, the night before we arrived, a 77-year-old pensioner shot himself in front of Parliament declaring that he could not afford to live, and he would not burden his family with debt. The city exploded in riots. The next night, we bravely attended the vigil. (My husband was a journalist in his past life, and I love a good adventure. No way were we going to not check this out!) A sign written in English posted to a large tree around which were laid flowers, notes, pictures and other memorials stated the position of (some of) the Greek people: “Proud Figher Mr. Dimitri: Pigs of parliament will feel the message of your great sacrifice very soon and very very hard. Be sure…..”
Our tour guide of the Acropolis, Maria, approached us boldly to solicit our business as we arrived. She is intelligent and eloquent, and she wove us a picture of the Greece of the past intermingled with the Greece of the present. The Greeks know, she told us, that they “hold the bottom of the basket.” Meaning, if Greece fails economically, it will take the European union with it. We felt from the Greeks a deep bitterness and anger, but also a keen sense of entitlement. Here in America, we can’t even relate to a 23% unemployment rate, and the loss of benefits we’ve been trained to expect for many years. But we may one day know what it feels like. Will we, too, react in bitterness or anger and riot in the streets? Or could we possibly take responsibility for what we as a country and people have created, and figure out how to fix it together? Accountability is critical to success.
In Turkey, I was reminded that I have to let go of what I think I know. Turkey is not the country I thought it was. Being willing to open up to new possibilities is critical to success. Here’s our guide Jan (pronounced John), admonishing us on that very thing. Drop your preconceived notions. Everything is just made up, anyhow.
Lastly, in Paris, we celebrated that persistence prevails! When we arrived at the Eiffel Tower to discover a 3 hour waiting line (one of the lower lifts had been broken for months), we decided to come back at night and climb the stairs. Hours and 600 or so stairs later, we arrived at the second tier of the tower, and were then able to take the elevator to top. Looking out over the City of Lights with glasses of champagne in our hands (another lesson: if you don’t want plastic champagne glasses left all over the place, don’t put any bottoms on them), the 600 stairs faded from memory. Of course, the memory quickly returned when we had to go back down. But that was a piece of cake.
Discernment, self reliance, accountability, openness and persistence. Characteristics that, if we practice them personally, professionally and as Americans, will propel all us to the solutions and success we so desperately crave. Wishing us ALL those possibilities in 2012. Cheers!