“He was good at life.” In honor of Taylor Force

Force

The tragic and untimely death of Taylor Force commands our attention and it demands that we pay our respects in our own ways for the life that was lost. Indeed, his family and friends recently did just that in Lubbock, Texas, as a recent Lubbock Avalanche Journal article reports.

For the uninitiated, Force was taken from this world while he was in the prime of his life while visiting Israel on an Owen School of Management at Vanderbilt school-sponsored trip. His loss, like so many others these days, was due to a senseless and barbaric act of terrorism as Force and multiple others were attacked by a knife-wielding terrorist. To survive tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and then die at the hands of a coward is an insult to life and decency. The only solace family and friends must feel is the inordinate impact Force had on life in the short years he had on earth to live it.  I did not know Force personally, but I can’t help but marvel at some of the intersections and connections that his story holds to mine and thus identify with him: we both grew up in Lubbock, both served as officers in the United States Army, and both pursued MBAs. One final intersection is that the Owen School of Management at Vanderbilt Dean, Eric Johnson, was a professor of mine at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth and also was a faculty sponsor of  Association of Christian Tuck Students (ACTS) that I was a member of. Dean Johnson is a wonderful man that was giving of his time and talents, opening his wonderful home in the woods of Vermont to students on numerous occasions while he served at Tuck. Dean Johnson had this to say of Force’s character, “He was a very valued part of the community, a student leader…the kind of young man that we would all hope is one of our sons…one that wasn’t quick to talk but when he talked it was always with insight and impact.”

Friends and family have described Force as someone that excelled in whatever he did. And yet the leadership, talents, and success were leavened with humility and a spirit of servanthood. To me, this combination of humility and not thinking too much of oneself while devoting one’s life to service to others, productivity, personal growth, relationships with others, making an impact on life and those around you is the essence of virtue. Force’s father, said it best in the linked article above when he said, “He was good at life.”  I am impressed not only with Force’s success and path in adulthood, but his seriousness and maturity in his youth, where he achieved success as an Eagle Scout and made the remarkably mature decision to attend high school away from home at the New Mexico Military Institute, accomplishments that allowed him to obtain the Congressional District’s sole West Point appointment that year. How many of us can say that we were busy developing character and virtue in our youths? Sadly, I know that I cannot.

With the general coarsening and crudeness of our society as manifested by the fact that we are collectively on the cusp of elevating a man to the Presidency who makes crass comments on the size of his genitalia on a nationally televised debate, I can’t help but think of Force and wonder how we can create a more just and virtuous society on his life model? How can I ensure that my own son and daughters emulate such a life at an early age? I have to ponder the question of if I was to meet an untimely death, whether the outpouring of grief and emotion would include the epitaph, “he was good at life.” Aristotle would define this virtuous life as finding the right balance of decency, prudence, wisdom, courage, deliberation, temperance, and modesty, and that true happiness and life fulfilment only comes from these virtues. Jesus Christ would indicate that the ultimate commandment is to love God and our neighbors more than ourselves. Force was the full embodiment of these virtues. I pray that the rest of us can busy ourselves with discovering those virtues for ourselves.

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A Novel Way to Express Gratitude to a Veteran

First, let me say here a happy belated Veteran’s Day to everyone that has served, and this extends to a sizable network of my friends and family. There is a tremendous amount of sacrifice in the calling of the military, and that often means the ultimate sacrifice given. These are selfless acts of the highest and most noble calling and the impacts of sacrifice can alter the course of history in the global sense, but more painfully can alter the course of the life experiences of individuals who serve. This impact is never relegated exclusively to the individual serving, as they are always surrounded by a network of their close family and friends who have to share in this burden in which the rest of us collectively benefit. In the U.S. at least, our all-volunteer military that rarely comprises more than 2% of the population is highly dependent upon a willing and ready force that enters into this sacrifice for the public good, and this volunteer aspect serves to heighten the importance and need of these heartfelt expressions.

That being said, I have long struggled with the proper form of thanks to express and to receive on occasions such as these. While it is certainly wonderful to receive the veneration and praise of others, often times it seems well-intentioned but fleeting in nature. The corporate ad blitzes, tributes, yellow ribbons, and parades are a natural and proper part of the public forms of gratitude, but still seem to fail to provide a meaningful and lasting expression that resonates. With military and veteran suicides at remarkably high numbers, there is still something missing in the connections that society is able to make between the crucial transition between military and civilian life.

The sense of life mission and purpose as well as the sense of camaraderie with one’s fellows in arms that is inevitable in such as stressful occupation is something that is quite impossible to replicate once one leaves the service. A blog on the subject in Transitions authored by Steve Rose – PhD in Sociology from Queens University, captures the essence of this transition challenge in Canadian veterans in a moving fashion.  Listening to an NPR quick 3 minute segment on the subject of Veteran’s Day resonated with me in that it focuses on how to bring veterans into public leadership roles as a proper way to thank them. The audio clip is not long and is worth the listen for the novel perspective it gives. Military service can serve as a useful signal to society that the person willing to do such service embodies the type of spirit that desires and craves altruistic service to something larger than the individual. Thus, they naturally will gravitate and appreciate involvement in important contributions to society. This serves as a reminder that there are myriad ways to express gratitude to a veteran that goes well beyond the typical Veteran’s Day celebration and could effectively counter the sense of loss and loneliness that can inevitably arise from the loss of sense of purpose and belonging, or even worse, the severe depression that can arise from the loss of life of one’s comrades or own physical and mental limitations that come from serious injuries sustained in battles that seem far removed from the ease of daily American life.

The conclusion is that the next time you need someone to lead or help out in a volunteer or non-profit project or campaign, think of a military veteran. The next time you need someone to fill an important role at your church or charity organization, think of a veteran. Does your geographic area need someone to serve in public office? Think of inviting a veteran to run. Does your corporation need better leadership in its management ranks? Think of the veterans and initiate a military hiring focus. Does your community have programs for wounded warriors? Think of ways to involve them in your community, from running charity organizations to coaching baseball teams, to hiring them for the skills that they are capable of – they need involvement and connection, not pity.

Shifting to a more personal note, I can say that I have as much to express in the form of gratitude to the institution of the U.S. Army as I should expect from it and society for having served. Without the 8 years of service spanning the Texas National Guard and the Active Duty Army and time spent at ROTC at Texas A&M, I am not certain where I would have found the funds to make it through college (or at least I can be exceedingly grateful I did not leave with $60,000 in debt), the discipline and grit to persevere, a reliable network of trusted friends, and leadership building that is unmatched in the corporate sector. I am tremendously grateful for the time I was blessed to serve in one of the nation’s truly remarkable meritocratic melting pots of backgrounds and ethnicities, where the sense of mission erases the stains of division and hatred that ravage so much else in American society. On Veteran’s Day, I am ever reminded to salute the Army and my former comrades, some of whom are tragically no longer with us.