By Mary O’Brien, M.D.
Traffic Delays. Slow Wi-Fi. Dead phone batteries. Forgetting a password. Insufficient “likes.” These are among the top stressors listed by millennials in a recent survey. Contrast this with the real stresses endured by similarly aged men storming the beaches of Normandy in World War II and the absurdity of current culture becomes painful.
I’ve always been baffled by the number of people who confuse Memorial Day and Labor Day. They’re not even embarrassed. Ask nearly anyone much under the age of 50 what he knows about June 6, 1944, and prepare for a blank stare. Twenty- and thirty-somethings may well scrunch up their faces in annoyed perplexity as only they can do. People today lead frenetic, cluttered lives that leave little room for history. But as Cicero wrote in 46 B.C., “To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child.”
Memorial Day commemorates those who died in active military service. Originally, it was called Decoration Day and was observed on May 30th. Eventually, it was changed to the last Monday in May mostly as an excuse for another three-day holiday weekend. This year Memorial Day falls on May 27th. People will have barbecues, picnics, and parades. They will open neighborhood swimming pools and proclaim the unofficial start of summer. A few thoughtful people will attend memorial services and place flowers on the graves of those who sacrificed all. But millions will remain clueless as they consume hot dogs and beer.
This year, on June 6th, those of us fortunate enough to live in the free world will observe the 75th anniversary of D-Day (June 6, 1944). The planning, hope, courage, determination, perseverance, and sacrifice of the Allied Forces on that momentous day cannot be overstated. The unwavering commitment of thousands of men to stopping the onslaught of the Nazis despite the terror, horror, and agony of it all is beyond our grasp. What those men endured makes our worries laughable.
The next time you find yourself upset by traffic delays, slow Wi-Fi, or a dead phone battery, remember Memorial Day, D-Day, and Cicero. Some of us need to stop thinking like children.
By Mary O’Brien, M.D.
Media reports described her as merely “an older woman.” The implications are obvious. “Older woman” translates into commonplace, generic, ordinary, and unimportant. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Lori Gilbert-Kaye was the 60-year-old lady who threw herself between the vicious 19-year-old gunman and the rabbi at the synagogue shooting in Poway, California.
Members of the congregation were observing the final day of Passover when they were attacked by unbridled evil. Lori Gilbert-Kaye gave her life to save her rabbi. There is nothing commonplace, generic, ordinary, or unimportant about that. Rabbi Goldstein described her valiant action at a deeply moving ceremony in the Rose Garden on the National Day of Prayer. He lost several fingers in the horrific attack, but his wisdom, insight, courage, and compassion were only highlighted in the process. He honored Lori Gilbert-Kaye in his brief but eloquent remarks. A march in her honor is scheduled for early June. No doubt many people will learn more about this kind, generous, devoted, and heroic “older woman.”
Is there something those of us in health care and education can learn from all of this? Indeed, there is. People have names. They are not merely generic patients, students, or account numbers. They are not simply old ladies or cases or room numbers. Every human being has an identity, a personal story with challenges, heartaches, triumphs, and loved ones. A woman who instinctively gave her own life to save another deserves to be known and remembered by her name. Lori Gilbert-Kaye was heroic in life and in death. She set a beautiful example for our nation.
Most of us will never have to make the split-second decision to sacrifice our own life to save that of another. We do, however, have an opportunity everyday to honor others by using their proper names. Lori Gilbert-Kaye was far more than an “older woman.” She was a heroine of the highest order.
By Mary O’Brien, M.D.
Do you teach students? Do you manage employees? Are you setting a good example for those who will come after you? Last week, I heard Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of J.P. Morgan, discuss the importance of cultivating a bench of good people from which the board of directors could select a worthy successor. A truly wise leader in any organization thinks like that. Of course, in order to think and plan on that level, one needs tremendous maturity, discipline, humility, and prudence.
Many people today are too insecure and self-obsessed to train their own replacements. They’re more worried about who might threaten their power and position. But history is a good teacher. Socrates trained Plato, and Plato trained Aristotle. Jesus picked 12 apostles and numerous disciples. Sir William Osler trained an elite cadre of young physicians to follow in his footsteps at Johns Hopkins.
Superior leaders surround themselves with first-rate people, and these leaders cultivate several key attributes and skills. Whether you are a senior partner, a professor, or a parent, here are some of the qualities that are essential to your ultimate success as you pass the baton:
- A deeply ingrained sense of right and wrong. Many people focus on what they can get away with. Moral relativism is not the secret to greatness or even long-lasting success.
- A willingness to accept personal responsibility for success or failure. Expressions like “It’s not my fault,” “It’s not my job,” do not make for an acceptable mindset.
- The ability to speak and act with courage. This one is tough in the age of social media nonsense and nastiness. The vast majority of people in board rooms and conference halls are afraid of what someone might say, so they hide behind the commonplace and comfortable. There is no honor in cowardice.
- The wisdom to encourage and inspire others. Mediocre-management types make excuses. Top notch people bring out the best in others. When you have a great parent, teacher, coach, or boss, you can’t bear the thought of disappointing your hero.
- The capacity to engage in independent thought and creative problem solving. The world is full of lemmings, parrots, copycats, and complainers. It takes a secure, confident leader to inspire real leadership in others.
Whether you work in a huge medical center, a small office, a corner pharmacy, or at home, someone is looking to you for guidance and a good example. Don’t be afraid to set the bar high.