Friday, December 7, 2012

How Will Your Colleagues Remember You?

Today I attended a memorial service at work, for someone I didn't know and probably never would have run into. It's not the first one I've attended for a colleague who lost their lives in the line of duty and it is an awful sight to see.

Know this before I go any further:

--This isn't an excuse to promote my Agency, or any Agency, or the government in general. Although I could. I don't think most people have a clue of the devotion of the average frontline employee serving in dangerous circumstances. Have you ever seen a leader's voice shake, eyes redden as he eulogized a fallen employee? It is horrible. I have seen it happen more than once. In the zeal to find fault with those who shepherd our organizations we quickly overlook what is good.

--It's not about one person. You did not know them and neither did I. It was - moving is not good enough a word. I actually don't have a word that could cover the sight of one colleague describing his everyday interactions with another colleague in such vivid detail. With such obvious liking and respect. And to see that this person suffered drastic physical harm in the same incident that took the life of his peer. That was pretty difficult.

--It's not - not! a preachy post on morality or what defines the "well lived life."

No - it's about something completely different. Capturing a moment in time, when my memory of it is still fresh and, like a camera, I can convey this memory without the Photoshopping of a later recollection.

It's about what really matters to people. What they think about when someone has left, and they reflect on that life, and they take something with them.

You might think: After you pass, what does your reputation matter? You don't have to impress anyone, anymore. You are literally beyond such worries.

But yet you do care. Admit it - you do. Because something in you knows, for whatever reason, that the history book of time applies to you, too. Your actions, the way you affected people, will be etched in stone, and there's not a thing you can do about it once you're gone.

Today, here is what people remembered enough to talk about:

--That you loved someone.

--That you sacrificed something for a greater goal.

--That you believed in trying. Even if you weren't sure you could make a difference.

--That you had joy in life. That you loved a good meal. That you loved being the boss. That you lived!

--That you thought about others in small ways. Went out of your way to make them feel comfortable. Even though you didn't have to.

--That you had passion, so much so that you didn't want to take a break.

--That you saw past superficial differences, like department or nationality or religion. That you didn't think that way.

--That you stood by whatever faith you possessed, even in 100+ degree heat.

--That you had a kind word for everyone.

Most of these things can be encapsulated in a word - in Yiddish we call it being a mensch. A decent human being. The good news is that anyone can accomplish that. 

My great-grandfather, may he rest in peace, had a saying: "Just don't make the world any worse." I always thought that was funny. I never met him, but what a pessimist.

I learned something from my great-grandfather's words. People have pretty low expectations of others, in inverse proportion to how many years they have lived to see people do bad things.

If you want to be remembered well, I would say that the bar is pretty low. So at a minimum try not to hurt people. At the maximum, just be yourself. Your real self. The very best self that you can be.