by Phil La Duke
This Monday, the U.S. will celebrate Memorial Day. In the global community Memorial Day is one of the lesser-known U.S. holidays; that’s shame. The U.S. is often seen as the impudent child in the world community, accused of having no sense of history, no sense of legacy. Memorial Day started after the American Civil War to commemorate the fallen soldiers. Now Memorial Day is a day where Americans remember all those who have died in service to their country.
I am not a veteran and I won’t wrap myself in the flag. People who use occasions like Memorial Day to make themselves look good by thanking a stranger for his or her service sicken me; I find the gesture disingenuous and self-serving. While I am certainly grateful for those who served, and even more so to those who sent loved ones to pay the ultimate price for freedom, that is the purpose for this post.
This is not to say thanking a veteran is wrong or that I am discouraging it in some way. But if you are truly thankful for the service a veteran has paid you than hire him or her. Every day I am contacted by veterans who despite having served in a safety role while in the armed forces who cannot find work (because despite having extensive training in safety they lack a degree). As so many military conflicts wrap up world-wide we have a responsibility to help veterans transition to civilian work. If you want to show your gratitude hire a vet. But as I said, I don’t want to get up on that particular soap box this week (I will be revisiting it often and adamantly, but not this week.)
This week I want to remind all of us who work in safety to consider our legacy. We stand at a cross roads in safety. We are beset on all sides by those who think we are superfluous; people who dismiss us as over-protective fuss-budgets who want to protect workers into unemployment and others who see an opportunity to roll back safety protections that were hard fought by people who are long dead.
This weekend I want to remember those of us who came before us, those who served, their not only their countries, but people everywhere, in pursuit of a safer workplace. From Tiananmen Square to the Battle of the Over Pass people have faced death for a better life, not just for themselves but for countless strangers as well. We each have an individual responsibility to avoid squandering the advances they have made.
It’s easy to forget the sacrifices made by strangers on our behalf. Read Sinclair Lewis’s gut wrenching account of the plight of workers and ask yourself have we come so far that we can forget the people who worked under these conditions?
Remembering the fallen and abused is important, but it is only useful if we act on it. What will you do differently in response to the sacrifices others have made? What line will you draw; on what is the hill you are prepared to die?
Remembrance of those fallen may make us feel good, but they didn’t die to make us feel good. If all we offer for the sacrifices the giants on whose shoulders we stand are platitudes we disgrace their memories.
So fellow safety professionals, I ask you, what will be your legacy? Love me or hate me, I am here every week confronting you with the question: is this the best we can do? If people speak of me when I die I hope some will say that I pushed the profession, that I called out the lazy, challenged the complacent, and decried the hypocrites. But I also hope their will be those among you who have the courage to call me fraud, to denounce me as heretic. If I leave this planet without people arguing about my message I have failed.
So this weekend I challenge you to consider your legacy. What will people say of you when you have shuffled this mortal coil? Will they say that you did your best (remember, I can get a baboon in here to try hard)? Will they say you had the courage to do what it took when everyone tried to shout you down? Or will they say you were a dried-up, burnt-out turd of a person who shouted down new ideas, took boon-doggles to Brazil, and congratulated yourself for a job half-done? Will history judge you hero or villain? Will history remember you at all?
Will your children’s children’s children remember you at all? We all have only one chance to do something meaningful with our lives, will you contribute to the world of safety at all? Will you have tried, or will you simply collected a paycheck? In the end all we can do is try to honor those who came before us by protecting those who come after us.