Conscientious Collaborators: Having Courage in the Face of Division

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  • November 14, 2016


Twice per year, on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, I make sure to take time to sit in silence and just be grateful to all those men and women who’ve defended our country over the years. In Israel, on Yom Hazikaron, a two-minute siren sounds on the air-raid system; during those two minutes, everyone stops what they’re doing and stands still. In my own way, I’m trying to emulate that practice.

As our nation recovers from an exhaustingly negative presidential election cycle, CEOs all over the country, myself included, are grappling with how to address it. Do we ignore it? Do we impose our beliefs on our companies and employees? Do we allow a free-for-all on the topic?

I’d like to use the occasion of Veterans Day to call back to a historical event that demonstrates the best of human character and courage. Hopefully, it can bring us a sense of unity and maybe pride in the best that our country can be.

Pfc. Desmond T. Doss

Last week, my wife and I had the rare opportunity to see a movie. I’ve been playing the birthday card for about a month now, so I lobbied for Hacksaw Ridge. Produced by Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge is the true story of Pfc. Desmond T. Doss (played by Spider-Man himself, Andrew Garfield), who won the Congressional Medal of Honor despite refusing to bear arms during World War II. Doss was drafted, and he was ostracized by his fellow soldiers for his deliberate pacifism. He went on to earn respect and adoration for his bravery, selflessness and compassion after he risked his life — without firing a shot — to save 75 men in the Battle of Okinawa.

As I watched the movie, I couldn’t believe someone could be so courageous. It seemed so unlikely. But the movie has been fact-checked, and the conclusion is that the events portrayed in it are accurate. Here are a few salient points:

  • Doss, a devout Christian, refused to bear arms. He enlisted as a medic in the U.S. Army because, as he says in the movie, “While everyone else is going to be taking life, I’ll be saving it.”
  • Armed with nothing but a Bible, he carried his wounded comrades to safety, one by one, through enemy fire. In the movie, he repeatedly beseeches God to “help me get one more.”
  • Doss viewed himself not as a conscientious objector, but a conscientious cooperator. Doss was proud to wear the uniform, despite his refusal to take life.
  • The number of lives Doss saved is under debate. He estimated it at 50 while the military insisted it was closer to 100; they settled on 75.
  • While most of these were the lives of his fellow American soldiers, many of the lives he saved were those of Japanese soldiers. Doss risked his life to save the enemy, simply because they were human too.
  • Doss became the first conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor.

Doss demonstrated the best of what it is to be an American and is a true hero. He stood up for his beliefs despite derision and opposition from his fellow soldiers. He strove to help his country win a war that threatened liberty and freedom. Doss had the courage of his convictions, and that is something we can all honor as Americans, even if we disagree with them.

Strength From Diversity

I recognize that, in my company, there are going to be people who disagree on a number of points, from who should be the next U.S. president to whether we should have a noisy pingpong table in the office. In the end, diversity of opinion and experience is a strength. We may not always agree with each other, but it’s important for us to listen to and understand other points of view. By doing so, we make our company stronger.

The Learning House’s mission is clear: We help people improve their lives through education. Education is something that America needs right now, and it’s our way of being the change we want to see in the world (to paraphrase Gandhi).

The company’s divided; we all know that. So is the country. People don’t agree on the topic of the election, and it’s only one of many topics that people disagree on. But disagreement isn’t justification for disrespect or unkindness, and we’re only going to succeed in our mission by coming together and working as a team. This is as true for the country as it is for Learning House.

The Way Forward

Regardless of your politics, I think you should watch Secretary Clinton’s concession speech if you haven’t already. It’s an incredibly authentic speech — one that inspires hope and unity rather than hate and divisiveness. Hillary and Bill both wore purple, which I thought was a nice touch. Not only is purple a symbol of courage, as in the Purple Heart, but it’s also a synthesis of red and blue, a representation of the two sides of our divided country working together. And it’s a beautiful color.

There is no question in my mind that we will see a female president soon. Whoever she is, Republican or Democrat, she’ll have Hillary Clinton to thank. Progress — whether it’s social, political or economic — is coming, but it requires something of us: courage. If we have the courage of our convictions like Doss, we can make the world a better place for everyone.


About Todd Zipper

President & Chief Executive Officer

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