In past columns, I have addressed the issue of leadership — through my own perspective and through the views of others.
I've written about "moving the community forward" and shared thoughts from Terry Baker, president of the Washington County Board of County Commissioners, and from several up-and-coming leaders.
In this column, I will address leadership in terms of doing one's duty.
Although debunked by some historians, many authors quote Robert E. Lee's reflection concerning the word duty: "Duty is the most sublime word in our language. Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more. You should never wish to do less."
So what is duty? Why is the word and concept so noble? What inspires us to do our duty?
Most people will equate the word duty to the job; more so, to the job description. What specifically is your duty, your job, the outcomes, the parameters? I generally ascribe to that approach with one additional question: What inspires you to do your job, to do your duty? For many, it is money, prestige, honor, glory, power and sometimes love or hope. When you find a leader who leads because of the leader's love for the duty, hope for the future and a better or positive outcome, then you have a great leader.
The events of Sept. 11, 2001, changed the world forever. The New York City Fire Department is equipped to fight fires in buildings, from the outside, up to 20 stories in height. Simply put, the finest fire equipment ladders will only reach to 200 feet. Fires in buildings taller than 20 stories must be fought from the inside. That means firefighters must go up stairwells, using their legs and muscles to transport agonizingly heavy equipment to the location of the fire.
The World Trade Center towers were more than 100 stories tall, and the fires set by the crashing of planes into the buildings were above the 56th floor in each of the towers. That situation, at first in the North Tower where the first plane entered the building at the 78th floor, confronted more than 600 fire and rescue workers of the New York Fire and Police departments.
When the first responders arrived at the North Tower, there were more than 16,000 people inside both towers. Those first responders arrived before the second plane hit the South Tower. Imagine standing there or going into the North Tower and hearing — or feeling — the second plane hit. Now, fire is into both towers and up the stairs. Can you contemplate climbing through smoke-filled stairwells while you hear the sound of elevators crashing to the first floor from as high as the 78th floor, some with people still inside of them? Among the 3,000-plus deaths that day, 343 New York firefighters gave their lives in one of the greatest displays of love and hope in the history of our nation.
Those firefighters were leaders that day. What inspired them to do their duty? I doubt that it was money or glory. Maybe it was training or honor, possibly prestige. Mostly, I believe it was love and an ardent hope for a positive outcome to a disastrous situation. What else could inspire men and women to put their lives on the line for others?
The Bible says, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
I have a friend who is a firefighter in Washington, D.C. He wakes up every morning wanting to go to work in spite of the possible dreadful consequences of his efforts. He loves his job; he loves doing his duty. I want every leader to have that same sense of love that my friend has for his job.
As for hope, I want leaders to have that arrogant sense of hope that says, "regardless of the situation, I can make this work." James "Buster" Douglas had that sense of arrogant hope when he entered the boxing ring with Mike Tyson, and he emerged victorious in a fight that many believed hopeless.
As we look for leaders in our community, let's look for folks who love the job — the duty — and have a hope that future outcomes will be positive for the community. Love of the duty and hope for the future are powerful traits that inspire great leaders.
Art Callaham is a local community activist and president of the Washington County Free Library Board of Trustees.