I Once Was Blind...But Now I See

For major magazines like this, articles are usually submitted months ahead of their publication date. That is true for this article as well…and that poses a challenge for me.

On one hand, by the time you read this we may all be ‘back to normal’, mostly recovered from the shock and reality of the September terrorist attack. That seems to be the hope expressed often by our leaders, and perhaps we will be in a different emotional space a few months out. Then again, it is also likely that, for the remainder of our lifetimes, this tragic moment will not be seen as a remote historical event, but will instead always feel as though it “happened yesterday.”

I begin with this thought because I am writing in the heat of it all. I guess I just need you to know that, because the environment in which you read this will likely be different than the one in which I wrote it. All I know is that I have to write about it the way it is for me right now. One of the films I used many years ago when conducting training sessions had the intriguing title, What You are is Where You Were When. It was Dr. Morris Massey’s film and its basic theory was that what was happening in our world while we were growing-up, profoundly influenced “what we are” today.

Massey referred to the “Significant Emotional Events” of our lives – those circumstances that shake us to our souls disallowing us to ever be the same again. They literally cause us to SEE the world through new eyes. A Significant Emotional Event could be your first kiss. Or maybe a humiliating experience you have never forgotten to this day. We all remember the significant liberation of owning our first car. If you are fortunate you might have experienced an unexpected victory in some competition. We tend to think of these significant events as being peculiar to us alone – as in “It happened to me!” Only a few times has a Significant Emotional Event happened to the entire world at one time. And the world had one of them on September 11, 2001. It wasn’t the first and it won’t be the last.The question at hand is – What are we to do with such an experience?

Are we to analyze it? Every newscast and newspaper column seems consumed with analyzing “them” and why they did what they did. The “them” could be (and usually is) the terrorists – human beings who moved so far from being human they are off our spiritual radar screen. “Them” could be deservedly revered firemen, police officers, and the variety of other rescue workers whose devotion and heroics launched the national healing process. “Them” might be the Government, CIA, FBI, UN – or some other institution also shaken into a new way of being. “Them” could be just about anybody.

Indeed this analysis needs to be done so we can understand how our world is working or not working. But if this event is going to do more than horrify and anger you, the analysis cannot be about “them” – it has to be about our selves, about me and about you. It is us who need to be awakened out of our sleep. It is us who need to open our eyes to see what has been before us all along. What follows is a partial admission of my own blindness and what has been revealed after the shuddering of September 11.I once was blind to the reality that I am personally part of whatever happens in this world. I cannot simply observe it. I watched the tragedy unfold from Scottsdale, Arizona where there was not a cloud in the sky. And most of you watched it from somewhere else. And if we are not careful we will stand as though there is a one-way mirror through which we think we can observe things.

And it’s not just about what happened in New York City – it’s about watching a famine in Ethiopia; it’s about watching a homeless person using a cardboard box for a home; it’s about watching an elderly neighbor trying to cut his grass; it’s about watching someone in your department flounder under a task they are not able to do. But now I see that I affect circumstances even in my watching. And that if all I do is watch, I am made a cause of the sadness. Now I see that I cannot simply watch.

I once was blind to think that success is a matter of finding the highest paying job possible and trying to accumulate those toys and artifacts by which we keep score in our society. I was blinded by countless infomercials and direct mail pieces telling me how I could make a fortune – while absolutely none of them told me how to be happy and fulfilled. Even in my world of professional speaking we ‘rank’ each other by fee level or by how many books we’ve published and sold – never by how many lives we might have helped change or how many people found in our words the strength to carry on.

But now I see that what really counts is my finding the real meaning and purpose of my life – that my real work is to identify my destiny and fulfill it. Now I see that it has nothing to do with a job per se, but the higher purpose I am able to accomplish through that job.

Now I see that what angers me about the unfairness of the world is my destiny calling me. “Come and fix this!” it calls.

Now I see that my performance is not about quarterly results or “KRAs” or even about getting promoted. It is about committing myself to a higher calling that will make the world a better and more loving place – for my family, my co-workers and for my customers.I now see that any organization I work for must also find its higher purpose.

We saw so clearly the higher purpose of the New York Fire Department and of the other heroic organizations involved. We saw our Government suddenly cease its partisan squabbling because a higher purpose called them to attention. Now I see that I will never again give my life for shareholder value or market share percentages.

I see that if we can find and fulfill our corporate higher purpose, all these other measures will look after themselves. I once was blind in thinking that I needed to connect with others only out of necessity or because I would personally gain from the connection. So I would talk to a stranger on a plane only if I thought there might be benefit to me if I did so. I once saw “teamwork” as a technique to gain more efficiency and improve quality.

I once saw the “On a need to know basis” philosophy as reasonable and that what we mindlessly called teamwork was, in reality, little more than minimal cooperation. I was blind to how individual managers and departments kept most of their cards hidden, unwilling to share them with colleagues because “information is power.” We have learned that even those charged with national security didn’t talk to each other for fear of losing territory, not seeing that in doing so they risked losing it all. But now I see that teamwork is a spiritual connection between people sharing a higher purpose. It is a choice that comes out of the deepest part of our soul. I now see that if we continue to wait for a tragedy to “unite” us, we are doomed indeed. I also see that the test of what we have learned is not felt now in the heat of our pain – it will be felt in five and ten years when we will see what we have become.

Will we still join hands in singing America the Beautiful wishing it would never end or will we fidget impatiently waiting for the ball game to start? Will our Government still be standing shoulder to shoulder united to do what is right or will they be back to senseless self-absorption? Will I lapse back into my blindness or will I continue to see that it is my participation in the world that creates what we call reality?

To the blind, all things are sudden, someone once said.

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"Copyright The Ian Percy Corporation." Ian Percy is one of North America's most inspirational speakers.

Ian Percy is an international speaker and consultant and can be reached at www.ianpercy.com


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