Stand Up and Be Counted

By Scott Westerman
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“Standing by your beliefs when they are unpopular is the full measure of courage. Taking responsibility for your actions is the full measure of character.”

I grew up as a child of the 60s, when many of the things we take for granted today were being hotly debated. I wanted to be a journalist then, and as a part time news guy for WPAG in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I watched history being made first hand, not from the safety of the living room side of the TV tube, but among the conflict, sweat and stench that is the front line of change. My job was to report; to describe what I witnessed with the objectivity of my reporter-heroes. Walter Cronkite had his opinions, but the trust we had for him lay in his ability to accurately articulate all sides of an issue. I tried my best to do that.

But I also had my own beliefs. And to keep my sanity as an adolescent working in a profession that demanded impartiality, I kept a journal where it was safe to express my own assessments of what I believed was right and what was wrong. I found that journal the other day. I wrote it for Dr. Roy Davis’ 12th grade AP English class at Pioneer High School.

Dr. Davis never read what we wrote. There were many other assignments with that purpose. He just counted the pages. He knew that the habit of expressing our thoughts regularly would do two important things: Help us better articulate them and, most importantly, help us come to grips with what we believed in.

Thumbing through the screenplay of that part of my life, I realized that two things about me had not changed: My handwriting is still horrible and I still believe what I wrote in January of 1973.

“The problem with building a world that is based on love, tolerance and acceptance is that it opens the door to those who want to destroy it. Our rights and freedoms were not benevolent gifts. People had to fight and die for every one of them. And they are always at risk. It won’t be the frontal assault we used to win them. It will be disguised as fomented fear, uncertainty and doubt, expressed as twisted words and half truths that constantly pound at the foundations of our faith. These are the weapons of those who would seek to define our liberty in their terms and to force us to exist for their benefit and not ours.”

“Yes, we are at war. But it is not just a war against Ho Chí Minh (fast forward to today and insert “terror” here). It is the perpetual battle to protect the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness that every human being deserves. We are all soldiers for one side or the other. If we sit quietly while the other side works to limit our freedoms, we are fighting for the enemy and will get what we deserve. Or as Ben Franklin so aptly put it, ‘Those who give up their liberty for more security neither deserve liberty nor security.'”

Nothing has really changed, except perhaps that more of us are apathetic today. More of us are desensitized to the pain and suffering that still exist around us. More of us are less likely to stand up and be counted. Paula Deen’s vocabulary from 30 years ago is more important than the conversation about funding public education. Kim and Kanye get more attention than the fight to end poverty.

Not so in other corners of the world. As Tom Friedman notes in his “Takin’ It To the Streets” op-ed in the New York Times, the perfect storm of newly minted democracies, a shrinking middle class and the proliferation of social media are inciting, “.. more people in the streets more often over more issues with more independent means to tell their stories at ever-louder decibels.”

Ideas begin to gain traction when a dedicated group of people commit to making a dream come true. To succeed over the long haul, the group must be inclusive, collaborative, innovative and tenacious. The fundamental idea must pass from leader to leader with an unwavering focus on the values that are it’s underpinnings.

The American Dream is no different. It begins to die when priorities shift from the values that inspired us to the maintenance of a comfort zone.

If the events of the day teach us anything, it’s that even when we think we’ve won, we can still lose.

Whatever you believe, I challenge you to stand up for it. Support what you believe with facts and not fear. Define the thin line where compromise ends and capitulation begins. And work as close to that line as possible. Gridlock destroys relationships, companies, nations and cultures. Collaboration strengthens them, even if that means bending a little.

Today is no different from 1776, 1973 or September 11, 2001. Tomorrow will be defined by what you do right now.

So Engage. The future of your career, our country and your own pursuit of happiness is up to you, one way or another.

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