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NEWS | June 12, 2008

The Hard Right

By Lt. Col. Shawn Silverman 316th Operations Support Squadron commander

Jane is traveling 63 m.p.h. in a 55 m.p.h. zone when she is pulled over by a patrolman. She:
a. scolds him for not going after real criminals.
b. ekes out a few tears and tells him she is on her way to the hospital to visit a dying relative.
c. says, "You know, you're right. I was speeding."
Dave spots a wallet full of cash on the ground in the commissary parking lot. It adds up to $250 and no one sees him pick it up. He:

a. thanks his lucky stars, stuffs it in his pocket and goes out to buy a Wii.
b. agonizes over it for fifteen minutes before stuffing it in his pocket.
c. turns it in at the customer service counter immediately.

The names here are changed, but these are real life incidents of people I know. Jane chose a combination of a and b, first expressing her indignation and then sliding smoothly into a sob story. She related this experience in front of her children, laughing over the fact that she got off with a warning, but think of the lessons of irresponsibility and manipulation she just offered them.

Dave chose option c. He turned in the money without any hesitation. The praise heaped on him by the customer service representative confused him and he asked me a very insightful question. "Since when," he asked, "did it become extraordinary to do the right thing?"

Yes, indeed. When did it become so awe-inspiring? Every day we are faced with opportunities to do the right be honest, to admit when we are wrong and to be fair. Some people see it as a difficult proposition, but it is easy. Clearly, it is not rocket science. It means losing hidden agendas, manipulation, and dishonesty and letting the chips fall where they may. Many people are willing to do the right thing when there is no cost involved; the true test of character is in choosing to do the right thing no matter what and accepting any loss or inconvenience as a small price to pay.

Much has been made recently of Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates' remarks to Air War College just over a month ago in which he challenged the audience to "...reject convention and careerism and to make decisions that will carry you closer toward - rather than further from - the officer you want to be..." He praised maverick thinkers like Col. (ret.) John Boyd whose innovative approaches to problems overcame cumbersome bureaucratic roadblocks only through his uncompromising determination to do the right thing. Secretary Gates praised him because he believes that we "need principled, creative, reform-minded leaders - men and women who, as Boyd put it, want to do something, not be somebody."

Not all of us will have the impact on the Armed Forces that Colonel Boyd had, but the ultimate war against convention and careerism is fought daily with many smaller battles. Every day we are presented with decisions that impact the future of our lives and the future of the Air Force; some smaller and some larger. Most of these decisions require little thought or sacrifice and we normally chose to do the right thing. It's when the decisions are hard and require sacrifice that we sometimes falter. I challenge each one of you to do your best to break from convention, to shrug the notion of your inability to change "the system" and in the end when you put your head down on the pillow at night be comforted that you chose the hard right over the easy wrong.