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  • Reverend James Squire

Ethics and Your Ability To Take Risks

I get physical therapy at a facility that at times is filled with many PT people and clients. The head PT has been keeping me moving forward for years. He has read all my books, knows everything about my personality, and if there is an EA person who arrived at the school after I retired, he will bring them over to meet me. There is music in the background. It isn’t Frank Sinatra. It is Lady Gaga or any song that has a driving beat.

When running, I often listen to music. It is next to impossible to run slow when Lady Gaga or artists I don’t know are belting out their tunes with a fast pacing of their music. Every once in a while, Mike will throw out a question for the crowd and shout out that he wants an answer from everyone. Yesterday he asked, how comfortable are you driving with what is in your gas tank or if it is on empty? When do you feel a need to fill it? I indicated I want nothing below a half a tank. The group was shocked. “Hey, we thought you would be driving that car on empty.” Mike is my PT person, but he also functions as my PR person. Just like my ethics students, I wanted context! “I responded, “You didn’t tell me who, if anyone, was in the car with me. If it just affected me, I would do things one way, but depending on who was in the car, I might make a decision another way.”

I actually used Mike’s question in ethics class with my students. Some of us remember the Seinfeld episode where he is committed to seeing how far he could drive on an empty tank. It was hilarious perhaps because some of us have asked ourselves that question. The answer is different depending on who is in the car with you. Context matters.

I went out to a rival school to watch my students play in a soccer game on one field and see them as well on a track around the field. I am a sucker for “buy one get one free.” I could see two games instead of one. I parked on the street. When I came out, the electronic rear view mirror on my Volvo was hanging off by a thread of wire. I was furious, but the closer I go to the car, I noticed a note tucked under the windshield wiper.

I read it and was shocked. It had the name of the person who did the damage and her phone number followed by an apology. It is sad but I thought I was in an alternative universe. When I called, she answered the phone, and told me to take the car to my body shop, and send the bill to her. What a great example of the best of humankind. After all of this I told her who I was, how excited I was about her gesture, and asked her permission to use the example in my ethics class without naming her. There was a long pause. She went on to say, “Chaplain Squire, I can’t lie to you. I wouldn’t have done it, but I had my two kids in the back seat. I didn’t want to be a bad role model for them.” CONTEXT MATTERS.

This question has a corollary that I used in class. “If you scratched a Porsche while parking your car, would you leave a note?” I will let you, the reader, answer that one. My students had a gazillion questions such as, “How big is the scratch?” and observations such as, “If he has a Porsche, he can afford to fix it himself. He has more money than me.” You get the picture.

What would I do if my gas tank was on empty? Leaders by definition have to be risk takers. I indicated to my students that I wanted good/right decisions to become second nature. Most of the players in the current Pro Basketball Tournament make those winning shots without even thinking about them. Their actions are second nature. That’s also what makes a person a great musician, dancer, actor, or singer, etc. In the course, I tell the students on day 1 that every student in the class will have to answer the question at the end, pulling from everything in the course, “what makes me tick?” (Depending on how they answer that question, they will be able to be informed about their answer to the question about how much gas do you need in your tank before refilling.)

My answer to the question is in my memoir, The Times of My Life. I have lived a lot of my life outside my comfort zone. I wouldn’t be where I am today where I could be helpful to others without taking risks.

But here is the thing. You lead by being taught by the people that you are called to lead. Then you can take them to places they may not want to go, a new frontier.

I have been taught by a former student who traveled all over the world delivering health care to those in need in places not many people go. She died young of cancer after a 12 years fight. I have learned much from her.

When I needed a bit more courage as a leader, I was taught by a parent who was injured in a terrible accident when hit by a vehicle while running resulting in a brain injury. She now leads a foundation to support brain trauma research. I learn from her.

I looked out into the chapel where kids and faculty are sitting. There are so many stories of heroic gestures that nobody but a few know and I am privileged to know I am one of those people who knows their back stories. I take in “nobody knows what trouble I have seen.” They teach a leader how to lead.

Yes, and many, many others! On my better days I would drive that car with the tank on empty to see how far I could go! How about you? Every person is a leader in their own particular way. You don’t need a title. Who taught you to be a leader?

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