I Think I Can, I Think I Can…
By Jim Kuiken
Lots of interesting things in the news lately – if politics and government are interesting to you. The presidential election cycle is in full swing, and coming down to the wire pretty soon. That’s politics.
As I’ve mentioned before, politics is one thing, but government is completely different. If you want a little background on politics (i.e., if you’re not already saturated with the constant media drumbeat), you can see my previous articles ‘Let’s Talk Politics’ and ‘Inside a Political Campaign’ for an insider’s view.
Think of politics as sales, and government as business. Not all salesmen make good bosses or CEOs, and vice versa. I’ll tell you what I look for – as someone who has been involved in politics and in government (and sales and business…). What I don’t like are unethical (disingenuous at best, and slimy at worst) salesmen.
I watch out for those who spout bombastic self-serving blathering – constantly boasting or saying outrageous sound-bites that have no substance, but stir up base instinct and emotions. I watch out for those who incompetently blunder through life, and especially crisis situations, and then blame others, don’t admit their own short-comings, and then lie about it (and even lie about lying). I watch out for pie-in-the-sky promises, with no possible way to pay for or fulfil those promises… I watch out for those who seem to always be in the center of controversy involving dirty tricks or who say whatever it is that whoever they are talking to at the time want to hear, regardless of any contradictions to what they espoused before, and who disavow knowledge of or control over those events.
All those traits show me an unethical (at best) salesman / politician, and do not show me any real capacity to be a servant-leader, someone who thinks about their employees or constituents, and who constantly strives to make other’s lives better. Someone who is truly a servant of the people they represent, and not interested in self-aggrandizement or titles.
Ok Kuiken, get off your soap-box. Back to the question - what makes government work?
As with a lot of my articles, I’m not talking about big picture strategic philosophies or the overall structure of our national government. I’m talking about boots-on-the ground, sleeves rolled up (and not just for a photo), down in the dirt workings of government.
Everyone knows the three branches of our government. The adversarial system set up to make sure all sides of any argument are heard. Laws that have to be passed. Rules and Regulations that are used to implement those laws. And the working end of the law? Policy.
Policy is the grease in the wheels of government. How you do what the Laws say you must or must not do, and follow the Regulations and Rules that are set up as guidelines to implement those laws…and the Policy that tells government and all its agencies how to actually do what it is they have been charged with doing.
When I got promoted out of the field where I was a Supervisory Special Agent, and sent to Headquarters in Washington DC, my first job was as a policy writer for the enforcement branch of the service – which included all the agencies that were within the operations branch of the service. I became a “policy wonk”.
Not only did I write and oversee policy, but I also wrote portions of various proposed bills, some of which were incorporated into bills on the Hill that eventually became law…which then flowed back down to us…and I had to write policy to guide the service in enforcing or complying with those laws.
When I was doing that, I would call together working groups of the field-level folks who would be bound by those policies, and had them help develop those very policies. One of them asked me one time “Jim, are we doing any good? Are any of these policies actually going to improve anything, or are they just more ‘government’ regulations?”
As someone who had spent most of my career in the field, I knew the frustration of the constant flow of policies from Washington DC… I kept that in my mind as I worked to make policy very concise, and to remove all the extraneous rules and regulations so the agents could actually be effective in serving and protecting the law-abiding public.
I explained it this way. Think of a large oil tanker or cargo ship (full of all those containers / laws / agendas) coming into harbor. They slow way down and basically drift in under their own inertia. You’ll see a small little tug boat with its nose against the front of that big ship, pushing as hard as it can with the water boiling up behind it…and absolutely nothing happening. The ship continues to drift under its own momentum.
But if you watch long enough, you will see that big ship begin to slowly change direction, from the constant pressure of that almost insignificant little tug boat at full throttle, pushing. That’s policy. If you expect to ride into DC on a big white horse and save the day – go write comic books. If you come to work hard and keep the pressure up to improve the lives of everyday people…expect to see no measurable immediate effect…what you are up against is just too big and has too much inertia. But keep pushing. Maybe you can even join forces with a couple of other tug boats, and have enough effect to make a difference.
Yes, government is ponderous and overgrown, but policy can have an effect. As can laws…and good governance. Look past the politicians and campaigns…and find good candidates that will actually be good governors. Servant-Leaders.
Walking ... or Just Talking?
By Jim Kuiken
Have you ever wanted to start your own business? Do you want to write a book? You know you have great ideas for both, don’t you? It’s okay, you can admit it. We all do!
“Oh, I just want to play music with my band.” That’s easy, go find a garage and have fun! Wait…you mean play for people? Like a gig? Well, that’s a business.
Do you like training dogs or working with animals? As a hobby or a volunteer? Outstanding! I love animals. Or do you want to do it for a living, maybe start your own business?
I absolutely think you should follow your passion – do whatever you like or do whatever you love. Anything that crosses your mind that you’re really interested in can be a business…or you can be a writer producing a blog, or writing articles, books, etc. about those passions. The only limiting factor is yourself (see my previous post - Boxes? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Boxes).
I spent my entire adult life in public service…but guess what? Eventually I retired! Now what do I do? I tried corporate, which was ok…but I was still working for someone else.
Then I opened up and ran two of my own companies. It was hard, but I did it, and it was great! And now, I follow my real passion…storytelling. I’m a writer and public speaker – and an advocate for those who are in need – and I LOVE what I’m doing!
That’s the first key. Do what you love, what you like, or what you really, really want to do.
But dreamers think about the same things… I know, I’m a dreamer too. There are lots of things I’m really interested in and would love to do, but I never get past the stage of dreaming about it and actually do it. I want to be a pilot (I’ve jumped out of airplanes, but I can’t fly one). I want to spend my days on a large, wooded ranch (with horses and cattle) at the base of some mountains with streams and a lake, etc., and hunt and fish. But I live here in a suburb.
We all have dreams.
The difference is that an Entrepreneur does things, and the Dreamer thinks about things. That’s not a bad thing, unless you want to be an Entrepreneur and end up just being a dreamer…
So, we figured out the first key – doing what you love, like, or really, really want to do.
The way to get past just thinking about stuff, and doing it is to have a plan, some tools, and maybe some friends or mentors that can help you. I’ve written about some of these before, so to make it easier, here’s a list that you can use if it helps you. I wrote these from personal experience…and from my failures as well as my successes.
Wait – failures? Oh, absolutely…and I’ve had some real doozies… I’ve lost my job, my house, and everything I own at least twice! I’ve risked everything and lost.
And I learned more from those failures than I did from a lot of successes (and I’ve had some great successes)!
So, here’s a quick list if you’d like to look through it:
So the second key is to make some plans, and use the tools, friends and mentors, and any knowledge and help you can gather to pull it all together, and start doing what you love.
And the final key? Hard, gut-grinding work. The will to spend all your available time and effort to make it happen. That’s the real key. I never was the smartest, biggest, baddest, fastest, most talented person out there – if someone thinks they are, then they’ll be surprised when some skinny little 12-year-old girl goes blazing by them on a 10K run…putting that tough macho Marine guy to shame (yup, that happened…hard to run when you’re busy swallowing your own inflated pride).
Two folks who kept me on the path were
Dream your dreams, follow your passion, and don’t forget to have fun – I’m having a blast!
Not ‘60’s “Peace” – Real Peace.
By Jim Kuiken
World peace would be great. The U.S. not in a war would be great. “Can’t we all just get along?”
The world is populated by people, and as long as there are at least two people, there will never be agreement on everything…and that only gets exponentially more difficult with each additional human you put into the mix. The planet will never be free from disagreements (about darn near everything), from discord, arguments, fights, and war.
Don’t get me wrong, just because it’s not attainable doesn’t mean we shouldn’t always work and strive for it, but that’s not the real peace I’m talking about. As with most things, I’m focused on a much simpler scope.
When are you at peace? True peace, not just the absence of strife and suffering. As my old (southern) law teacher always said, “it depeyands” (on what peace is to you).
Like most people, I’ve had bad experiences and trauma in my life. Many folks have more, lots of folks have less. I’ve always seemed to be in the wrong place at the right time, and have a fairly diverse background – but always a background of service, which puts you in the situation of helping others, which also means that you witness and experience the highs and unfortunately, the lows of life.
I’ve been a firefighter, an EMT, a career law enforcement officer/agent (state, local and federal), a career military (combat) servicemember, and even a diplomat in a war-torn country.
Some things you see can’t be unseen, things you’ve experienced and the trauma (physical, emotional and psychological) that you’ve endured stays with you, generally for life. And they stack up.
As a firefighter, I’ve seen people devastated by the loss of everything – their home, all of their worldly possessions, their pets, family members, loved ones. I’ve tried to comfort them in their grief.
As an EMT, I remember the ones I worked on but couldn’t save. All of them were tragic, but two in particular stay with me all the time. One young boy riding with his dad on a motorcycle, sitting on the seat just in front of his father, when the truck in front of them slammed on the brakes, causing the motorcycle to rear-end the pickup. The little boy, about 5, died as we worked on him there in the street – right in front of his dad. The other was a little girl who “stopped breathing”. I performed CPR on her for about 10 minutes before the ALS ambulance arrived, and then rode with her to continue treatment during the trip to the hospital, where she died. We later found out that her mother’s boyfriend had smothered her with a pillow because she wouldn’t stop crying and take a nap while they were trying to get high.
I won’t even go into all the depraved, cruel and completely inhuman things, all the human suffering and death that I saw in a career in law enforcement, working everything from basic patrol and traffic, up through human smuggling, sex slave trafficking, gangs, drugs, and counter-terrorism.
And war as a combat Marine…several wars. Places like Southeast Asia, the Middle-East, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq… I can’t say it much better than Joseph Galloway. “We who have seen war, will never stop seeing it. In the silence of the night, we will always hear the screams. So this is our story, for we were soldiers once, and young.”
I wish I could say I was unique, but I’m not – far from it. Millions who have served have similar stories. Most people have their own traumatic backgrounds, abuse, tragedy, scars…
So how do you find peace? Tragically, many never do – which often spawns more tragedy. Fortunately, some do find some peace. I know I have finally begun to find some brief moments of peace in those quiet pockets of life, and I’m grateful. Here are a few of those moments…
What moments do you treasure? When and where have you found peace…or have you? I hope you take a moment and look for that place, time, or thing…and I wish you true peace, even if only for those fleeting moments.