One of the things about having a career in architecture is that it has provided me with the opportunity to meet people that are influential in the community.
Over the years the list of people I have met with to discuss architecture and buildings forms a list of the influential that sometimes surprises me.
I count this as a blessing in my life. And before you get the wrong impression about this post, it’s not going to be about me. In fact I suppose I do not have much influence in the world apart from providing a service that is instrumental to the influential. The influential among us build buildings. It is a part of the task that comes with influence and responsibility. I have had many opportunities to be the ‘voyeur’ or to live a ‘vicarious’ life of the influential and wealthy by being around them on professional and some social occasions.
This is beginning to sound like a ‘look at me’ post, but it is not my intention, nor is it where I am headed. As I said, I am truly blessed to learn life lessons from this fate and I consider it a fateful fortune in the positive; far more valuable than money.
However I needed to construct the groundwork for this post and so it was somewhat necessary to tell you the above.
Yesterday I was in a meeting with the Chief of Police of a large metropolitan city here in Texas. His responsibility is an area with millions of citizens. He sat on the right side of me at the conference table, the stars and stripes on his uniform literally gleaming under the ceiling lights. It was obvious that the assortment of police employees in the room were deferential and respectful to him in all ways possible. The architects and consultants, being less knowledgeable, used his first name to address him (except me) and we went on about the architectural issues without deference to his status. I have the experience of being both a police officer (different jurisdiction than his command) and an architect so I fully understood the dynamics and professional protocol in the room.
During the meeting the Chief sat quietly. He was respectful and attentive to the architects and engineers and gracefully excused himself as we dipped into more and more detail.
As I drove back to my office following the meeting I reflected on the large responsibilities that belong to him every day. I thought about the disaster in New Orleans. I thought about September 11th in NYC.
How many of us can really say we could do his job? How many of us can handle the constant pressure of a Condi Rice or Donald Rumsfeld? How well would we perform their jobs?
Bringing this personal perspective helps us see the lives of the responsible in a different manner. Would you want to be Harriet Myers, publicly excoriated by Congress? Would you want to be the mayor of New Orleans, whose city was visited by a level of disaster previously unknown in our country? How about Bill Clinton; whose personal indiscretion is practiced by millions of other men in our nation including many that publicly defiled him in impeachment hearings. Would you want to walk in any of those sets of shoes? It seems to me that we spend so much of our time in constant criticism of those that take on the mantle of responsibility and influence that we no longer see their good.
I have my own cynical streak and it is quite healthy at that, as my friends and family can quickly assure you. In fact I can be quite cynical of leadership at times.
However, I am also clearly struck with the idea that the press, whether print or electronic, has in the past two decades projected a great deal of negative judgment onto the responsible among us. When this summary judgment is expressed in a worldwide or nationwide venue it hypnotizes us and encourages us to adopt similar behavior. This phenomenon makes us all guilty.
Like a child, we can point at the press and say “Well, they started it”, but it takes all of us engaging in this negative habit to make it a trait of the society in everyday discourse.
While I am not wealthy or influential in my own right, I have learned something very important in my life by being around those that are. The list includes large city mayors, school superintendents, multi-billionaires, multi-billionaire heiresses, corporate CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies and many others. These are the people that donate, quite literally, millions upon millions of dollars to charity. In addition they make numerous personal appearances on behalf of worthy causes.
So what have I learned?
They are every bit as human as you or I. More often than not they are benevolent to and respectful of others. They might have more talent, or more financial blessing, or more of many things, but at the end of the day, they are every bit as feeling and as human as anyone else. They do not have a magical shield to throw off the negative bite of their fellow man. They do develop coping skills, but I know from talking with them that it truly hurts them, even as they work on, trying to do what is best for the larger public.
Every day I see openly hostile references by the left and the right in this country to our leaders. I see people drawing hateful cartoons. I see opinion pieces that quickly break down into personal attacks on a fellow human.
It’s my belief that these opinion pieces are often composed by people that are essentially unknowledgeable about what they are actually writing about. I had a comically entertaining conversation with a friend about the ‘ports management’ issue. She went on at great length about the incredible stupidity of our leadership and president. When I asked her questions about her position it became clear to me that she did not know or understand the facts of the issue. For example, she believed that the US Government was selling the ports to the UAE after the British bid was rejected by George Bush and UAE ships would have harboring preferences. Wrong on all accounts.
So for starters, if you don’t really know what is going on, why are you calling the president an idiot? After digesting all of the actual facts you may come to disagree with the president. Perhaps we could just state that we disagree and leave the name calling out?
Maybe we can all find a more positive view and a more respectful position if we can find the requisite compassion to understand these people we so readily attack just might be doing the best they can, and that they are human. I offer Judge Alito’s wife as evidence of a human victim of this insufferable lack of respectfulness, even within our Senate.
And oh by the way……..doing without them might mean that we have to step up to the task and do it ourselves.
That’s a sobering thought. It is for me anyway.
The floor is open…..