HealthCommentary

Exploring Human Potential

Our Coast Guard Families Deserve Better.

Posted on | January 16, 2019 | No Comments

Mike Magee

On January 15, 2019, Admiral Karl Schulz informed 42,000 members of the Coast Guard and their families they would not be receiving their January paychecks because of President Trump’s wall-induced government shutdown. “I recognize the anxiety and uncertainty this situation places on you and your family, and we are working closely with service organizations on your behalf,” he wrote.  

This is a long way from February 17, 2005, when Commander Bill Kelly, Captain Jim Thomas, Captain Robert Dash, and Chief Warrant Officer Guy Cashman welcomed me to the Coast Guard Academy to address their executive team on leadership. Since 9/11, we had been working closely together after the release of the book “All Available Boats” which recounted the largest maritime evacuation since Dunkirk, under the direction of our Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard – lifesavers, guardians, warriors, and certainly the most underrated Armed Force in America – is a treasure and a uniquely trained humanitarian force, as prepared for peace as it is for war.

Fourteen years ago, in New London, CT, I emphasized that change was the critical lever defining leadership.  Pull it one way and you create a positive leader.  Pull it the other and you create a negative leader.  

Back then I said, “Negative leaders are short-term thinkers who use fear as a currency to herd people together and move them in whatever direction suites their needs.”

 As we have recently witnessed, in the short term, it is a successful strategy, but suffers from a critical weakness, and that is that heightening fear causes people to retrench, reinforcing old beliefs and behaviors, naturally segregating segments of society, reinforcing silos and resisting change.  

In the medium and long term, fear holds the population in place, even as the world around them continues to change. This inability to evolve, to stay in step, or to step ahead of a changing world, insures that negative leaders will eventually fail.

In contrast, positive leaders view change as exploration, and lead with vision rather than fear.  Their view is long-term and they reach out across the divide.  Rather than segregate, they congregate.  Rather than build walls, they build islands of common stewardship.  

The Coast Guard Academy is an island of common stewardship.

Why should our current level of fear concern us?  

Well first, fear is the currency of negative leaders, and they are more likely to emerge and succeed in a fearful environment.  

Second, fear undermines trust, and trust is the fabric of a civic society.  

Third, fear clearly has short and long term mental health implications.  

Fourth, fear accumulates, especially in those who are already fearful.  Post 9/11 studies showed clearly that fear biased women and minorities.  

And, finally, fear obstructs vision, actively discouraging imagination, innovation and hopefulness.  In compromising our wonder and inventiveness, fear fundamentally alters our collective future.

The Coast Guard finds itself in a unique position in today’s world.  As a humanitarian force it is both proactive and reactive.  Grounded in history, tradition, values and service, it is known and respected by all.  At the intersection of two powerful metaphors, it exerts great influence and arouses great expectation from those it serves.

What are those two metaphors?  They are water and vessels.  

Water representing life, purity, and goodness and vessels with the capacity to transport us to a better place. Water signals revitalization and rebirth.  Vessels contain hope and kindness, safety and salvation, equity and justice. At this intersection of water and vessel you will find the future hopes and dreams of not only the Coast Guard and their families, but also the human race.  

With the Coast Guard’s help and guidance, we are more likely to find liberty, opportunity, security, civility and democracy on these and other shores.

On 9/11, the Coast Guard reminded us that people are basically good, but they are not perfect.  People are basically kind, but when afraid they may act unpredictably.  People are basically loving, but when misled respond with hatred and contempt.  People are people. 

That is why the Coast Guard continues to devote as much time and energy to the preparation for peace as they do for the preparation for war.  For our homeland will never be secure if fear has so weakened the fabric of our society that we lose the capacity to be human and humane toward each.

Trump’s political gamesmanship has now ensnared these 9/11 heroes and their families. The Coast Guard deserves better. We all deserve better.

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