The success of our organization is based on superior attention to the basics, not on superior esoteric knowledge or secret techniques that we have developed.
I was talking about our organization, my favorite topic of discussion, to a very sophisticated individual not long ago. After describing the variety of services we provide to the different populations we support, he surprised me by saying, "You know, you are all over the place!" He meant that unlike other organizations that focus on one or at most several activities for a given population, we do many things for many types of people.
I have thought a lot about his comment. Overall, he is correct. We are not focused on one type of service. Nor are we focused on one population of people. That does not mean we are "out of focus." In fact, I believe we are very focused - on the intersection between serious and complex challenges. I have always sought out the greatest challenges I can find. Meeting those challenges in an excellent manner has been the standard I have set for our organization. We do not always succeed, but we almost never fail completely. I say "almost" because over the past 30 years, there have been a few individuals whose challenges have proven to be more than we could handle. Clearly, we can be excellent in many ways for many people, but we cannot be everything for everyone with serious and complex challenges.
How do we succeed with excellence so often in meeting these serious and complex challenges that other organizations cannot or will not meet? Do we have superior knowledge of the most current and sophisticated techniques in our respective professions? I know that many of the professionals we employ are among the most knowledgeable and skillful in their fields. These professionals certainly contribute to our success. But many other organizations employ quality professionals. Yet, they are not committed the way we are, nor do they accomplish what we accomplish.
Have we developed secret techniques that no one else knows about? If we do, they must be so secret that even I do not know about them.
What is the "secret" to our success in meeting so many serious and complex challenges? There is no secret, just a strong and ever present commitment to the basics. Our shorthand for this commitment is summed up in just a few words: "First, we do the right thing!" Because our first and primary commitment is to "do the right thing," we are able to accomplish near miracles for many people with the most serious and complex challenges.
We do have other commitments, of course. We must meet regulatory and contractual requirements. We must maintain our financial health. We must communicate with many other organizations, individuals, and the community at large. All of these and other commitments are very important to us, but they are secondary.
"First, we do the right thing ..."
Enjoying life is the best revenge.
I was talking with an older woman who was a survivor of the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. As is typical with older people, we started to talk about family, particularly the pleasures of grandchildren. At one point, she turned to me with a smile on her mouth and a tear in her eye and said, "For me, grandchildren are not only a great pleasure. They are the best revenge!"
At first, I was taken aback. Here was this sweet, frail old lady who was a grandmother and great-grandmother many times over. Talking about the pleasures of grandchildren seemed to come so naturally to her. But what did she mean when she equated her beautiful babies with revenge?
As a young girl, she and her family had hidden from the Nazis in a small town in Romania. Unlike most other Eastern European Jews, her family was still alive and well in 1943, four years into the war. One August day, in the early hours of the morning, they were awakened by loud, harsh banging on the door of their modest farmhouse. Had someone betrayed them to the Nazis? They did not know. They soon found themselves in a packed cattle car without food or water for three blistering hot days. After what seemed like an eternity, they arrived at Auschwitz and were lined up for the infamous "selection" process that would determine who would be sent to the gas chambers immediately and who would become slave laborers until their strength ran out.
When her father was sent in one direction and her mother and younger siblings in the other, she and her older sister did not know what to do. In a split-second decision, they decided to join their mother. As they struggled to catch up with their mother and siblings in the confusion that was an integral part of the "selection," a Jewish "capo" grabbed them and screamed at them in a language that they did not understand. Finally, he screamed in Yiddish, "You have time to die!" and he dragged them screaming and kicking to the other line where their father had previously disappeared in the confusion.
She and her sister were the only members of their family to survive to the end of the war. After a year and one-half of living hell, the American Army liberated them in April 1945. The two of them combined weighed less than 145 pounds, but somehow they regained their strength and made their way to Israel where they joined a kibbutz, married, raised families, and lived in side-by-side cottages for the past 60-plus years. Nothing had separated them in the war. Nothing has separated them since. Death may separate them soon, but only temporarily.
How much psychological angst did she experience as she worked hard to recreate a normal life after the war? More than I can imagine. Did she think about revenge for the unspeakable horrors that she and her family had experienced? No doubt. As the years passed, she gained the wisdom that some are privileged to acquire with age. She realized that inflicting pain on others, even others who may be very deserving of that treatment, could not undo the horrors of the past. If there is revenge, it is only in enjoying life, and what greater life enjoyment can there be than watching one's grandchildren grow and develop as good human beings.
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