“Courage is fear holding on one minute longer.”
– Gen. George S. Patton
As the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks draw near, like so many of you, I can vividly recall where I was and what I felt as I watched the horrific events of that day unfold. It’s been said that time heals all things. And while the memory of that day will never fade it is our prayer that the healing continues.
In the aftermath of 9/11 thousands of heroes descended on New York City, the Pentagon, and the countryside of Pennsylvania to assist the survivors and their families. One of those heroes was firefighter Bob Beckwith.
After 29 years of service, Beckwith had already retired from the New York City Fire Department when the events of 9/11 unfolded. When he learned that a former colleague’s son was among the hundreds of missing firefighters, he made his way down to ground zero and convinced authorities to let him pass. He then joined the search to find survivors.
A few days after the attack President George W. Bush went to New York City and visited the site at ground zero. Asked to say a few words to encourage the workers, Bush climbed aboard a partially buried fire truck. With Beckwith by his side, he spoke the now famous words through a megaphone, “I can hear you, the rest of the world hears you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear from all of us soon.” The picture of the two has become one of the most iconic photos from that time.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A hero is no braver than an ordinary man; he is brave five minutes longer.” It was the bravery of Beckwith along with thousands like him, who in the face of adversity, teach us much needed leadership lessons today. As you reflect on the events of 9/11, here are three take-away leadership lessons to apply in honor of those who lost their lives, and those who served in its aftermath.
Ordinary people answer the call during extraordinary times. It would have been easy for Beckwith to sit at home and leave it to others to sift through the rubble. After all, he had already done his duty. But not Beckwith.
Cicero said, “It is the character of a brave and resolute man not to be ruffled by adversity and not to desert his post.” And this was the attitude of brave firefighters, first responders, and thousands of other ordinary people who answered the call of duty during extraordinary times. In times of adversity, leaders like Bob Beckwith do not sit by the phone waiting on a call, they show up.
Ordinary people make great sacrifices. Working in shifts around the clock, workers at ground zero tirelessly searched for victims in the rubble. Volunteers from across America and around the world assisted in the clean up and recovery efforts. Ordinary citizens conducted bake sales, donated blood, and found many creative ways to help meet the challenges our country faced.
While not all of the names of individuals who made sacrifices will be remembered, let us not forget the courageous circumstances under which they were performed. Abraham Lincoln said, “Don’t worry when you are not recognized, but strive to be worthy of recognition.” And this is your call to leadership, not to make a name for yourself, but to serve great causes. Sacrificial leadership remains a noble calling.
Ordinary people give hope for a better tomorrow. The days following 9/11 were a dark time for our country. The overwhelming sense of loss coupled with a sense of security that had been taken for granted was shattered. We were shaken to our core.
Yet instead of cowering in despair and defeat, we came together- not as Republicans or Democrats, but as Americans. We set aside our petty differences to rally around a greater cause. We rallied our communities, our collective love of country, and faith in God in order to show the world that while we may be wounded, we would not be defeated.
Who are the leaders that make America great? Look around you. They do not relish fancy titles or status symbols. They are ordinary people like you.
© 2011 Doug Dickerson