Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

November 3, 2010

Excellence

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Mark Chubb on November 3, 2010

Over the weekend, an International Herald Tribune story published in the New York Times caught my eye. It chronicled an interesting development in the English language and pondered what it could mean for our culture. As I watch the election returns roll in and reflect on other news of the day, I find it difficult to reach optimistic conclusions about what this semantic shift might signal.

In the story, Anand Giridharandas recounted a study of word usage in American published works that indicated the occurrence of the words “achievement” and “fun” rose by factors of eleven and four-fold respectively between 1810 and 2000 while the appearance of the words “excellence” and “pleasure” fell by fairly similar margins over the same period. As Giridharandas notes, explanations for such shifts are hard to come by and often involve myriad complex factors.

Nonetheless, I find it hard to ponder the rationale for such shifts even momentarily without noting the differences in the words and the meanings they connote. Excellence reflects internal qualities, especially of character, while achievement is usually conferred by others. We like to think of excellence as an absolute quality, while achievement can hardly if ever be considered without reference to some standard besides itself. Likewise, pleasure seems to suggest an internal sense of satisfaction with or appreciation of something outside ourselves. Fun, on the other hand, tends to imply something about the character of activities themselves not simply our experience of them and their intrinsic qualities.

It is hard to contemplate the results of elections these days without imaging that the winners and those who support them find satisfaction in their achievement while others, including some who voted for the lesser of evils, wonder why it’s so hard to find excellent candidates who reflect their values. Low voter turnouts and polls that suggest deep ideological divisions remain among the electorate suggest even those who take pride in the performance of their civic duty on election day may take little pleasure in the task even if as they revel in the fun of their favored candidates’  victory parties.

Civic virtues, like the qualities suggested by the waning influence of the words excellence and pleasure and the values they imply, still move us. This was evident today by the reaction of those who knew or simply knew of John D. Solomon to the sad and shocking news of his untimely passing at the age of 47. John was the author and force of nature behind In Case of Emergency, Read Blog. A fierce advocate for citizen preparedness, John was eulogized today by many, including FEMA administrator Craig Fugate who noted:

John was both an important ally and critic of emergency managers.  I always appreciated his willingness to offer candid assessments of where we stood as a country as far as preparedness, and respected his honest feedback about our work here at FEMA.  He pushed all of us to always do more to engage and prepare the public – and set the standard for what it meant to be part of our nation’s emergency management team.

John’s friend David Shenk broke the news of John’s death to the readers of John’s blog. He noted how immensely talented John was and how committed he was to the work of disaster preparedness. Readers of John’s New York Times obituary will note that his life was characterized by many stunning achievements. He clearly was a man who enjoyed life and the company of family and friends with whom he shared many fun times. As I reflect on my limited contact with John, however, it was the strength of his character and the pleasure he took in pursuing excellence and encouraging its pursuit in others that will remain with me as his lasting legacy.

The authors and contributors at HLSwatch share the sense of loss at John’s untimely death and convey our deepest sympathies to John’s family and friends, especially his wife Abby and daughters Sara and Rebecca. We share too John’s commitment to building a more resilient nation and will do all we can to hold ourselves accountable for living lives of meaning and value by displaying and encouraging commitments to the civic virtues John embodied throughout his all too short life. Rest in peace, brother.

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5 Comments »

Comment by bellavita

November 3, 2010 @ 2:33 am

Thank you for writing this, Mark.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 3, 2010 @ 4:43 am

A necessary tribute to someone whose contributions to Emergency Management are worthy of study and reflection on the power on one individual. My deep sympathy to his family and close friends.

Thanks Mark for this post.

Comment by Christian Beckner

November 3, 2010 @ 11:55 pm

I got to know John over the past few years, first after starting up this blog and since then when I’ve been working at the Senate. He was a great guy and was passionate about the important but too often overlooked cause of citizen preparedness. My heartfelt condolences to his family and loved ones.

Christian Beckner

Comment by Condolences

November 4, 2010 @ 12:39 pm

“Citizen Preparedness” a priority for each of us as never before as is the necessity to convey the importance of such to our family, friends and community as this esteemed gentleman, John Solomon apparently committed himself to emphasizing.

Our sincere appreciation and “thank you” to him for willingly and unselfishly giving of himself to others. A virtue bestowed upon those Blessed by the Lord.

It is quite evident during this time in our vigilant watch that our path in convergence with darkness will be revisited as once again in mankind’s history those “entrusted” to address the good of all mankind have very much failed to do so no matter party or government affiliation!

Self-agenda and lust for power as well as incestuous accolades of one another with little or no attentive ear to the constituency has prevailed and whispers of insurrection are growing louder in the pew w/our eventual reliance on our military to protect and keep dear and near the mentoring words of warning found within our Constitution. We thank all that have served and they well know that America’s values must be first and foremost for we have not sacrificed so, so many of our youth in vain and throughout history willingly challenged the dastardly deeds of those seeking our demise (see: Iran/EU Germany).

We are at great peril! Let us clasp hands and proudly stand and recite the Pledge to flag and nation!

For those of us who have dedicated much of our time and focus on – First Response – and especially the professional whether at DHS/FEMA, NYPD, LAPD, local or elsewhere and to these good and dedicated men and women who we rely on daily when making our 911 call for often desperate assistance, Mr. Solomon’s astute awareness of the vital importance of citizen preparedness coupled with his obvious inherent strength and commitment to care for fellow man is well noted by community and more importantly acknowledged by the Lord as HE is witness to all!

Portraying civic virtues often with personal compromise depict the individual and while not having the opportunity to be introduced to this gentleman, John Solomon and his family have much to be proud of and to cherish many wonderful memories!

Mr. Solomon, John, thank you from each of us who see the same quite clearly and share the same heightened concerns.

God Bless you all!

Christopher Tingus

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