What is the reason?

If you read this column you might remember Sister Mac from a few chapters ago. She was the nun from my childhood who smacked us when we lied or evaded the truth. I suggested many of us would welcome the likes of her at interviews of our leaders.

Sir, did you know about this in advance? “Well, the truth is that we should be looking at…” Smack! “What I knew is not important. What’s important is…” Smack!

Lately I’ve been thinking of a tag team partner for her. His name is Chief Sordahl. I served under him in the Navy.

When the chief found a mess he asked us “WHAT IS THE REASON THIS HAPPENED?”

Well, Chief, somebody left the hatch open, and next thing…


Chief, we didn’t get the message in time to…


He asked that question until. Until some one of us admitted we screwed up. Or that we were stupid. Or that we failed to anticipate.

Back to Sister Mac. Was it her goal to humiliate her students? No. She wanted us to learn what truth is. And how it differs from lies.

Was it Chief Sordahl’s intent to humiliate his sailors? No. He wanted us to understand personal responsibility. He wanted us to take responsibility for our actions. To stand up. To own up. To see where our responsibilities lay in our various activities. He knew this was best for life at sea. Where the lives of others were in our hands. He knew it was best for life anywhere. His lesson was simple: Take responsibility.

I nominate him for the tag team with Sister Mac. To confront our leaders when they dodge responsibility. Or when they tell us they take full responsibility but blame someone or something else.

Chief Sordahl came to mind as the healthcare scandal at the Veterans Administration began to unfold recently. The Chief was a career man. He might well be one of the patients harmed at one of the hospitals.

As in so many scandals, lots of our leaders cited lots of excuses for what happened. There were these directives. There were those talking points. The office responsible for… Previous administrations did… We’re waiting for the commission to report on…

When I read and hear these I also hear the Chief. “THAT IS AN EXCUSE. WHAT IS THE REASON?”

It is a pity too few of our leaders stand up and own up. A pity for them. Because voters find it appealing in a leader when he or she does take responsibility. Really takes responsibility.

They love it when that rare leader says “Well, we screwed up.”

They can hardly be angry with a leader who admits “My mistake. My big mistake. I apologize and will try my best to do better next time.”

They remember, favorably, the leader who says “You know, we hit a few homers now and again. And like Babe Ruth, we strike out sometimes. This time we struck out.”

These are the voters who dislike the evasions. They wish Sister Mac was on the scene. To call a lie a lie and smack her way to the truth.

These are the voters who dislike excuses. I am among them. And I yearn for a Chief Sordahl to batter leaders with his tongue, his frown, his eyes like lasers that could bore through steel, until. Until our leaders find enough courage to give us the reasons. Fewer excuses. More reasons.

From Tom...as in Morgan.

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