Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Making history or histrionics?

“Join the Navy, see the world,” was one of the advertising campaigns for the US Navy when I received my appointment to Annapolis back in 1981. Over the subsequent eighteen years, I would visit 35 countries and receive orders that would take me to 14 commands where I would meet thousands of people, many who became acquaintances, and a good number who I counted as friends. After leaving active duty, I’ve lived in three major metropolitan areas and because of volunteer work and my cycling, I’ve only added to that number. Throughout the years, some of those friendships wax and wane of course, but thanks to social media, I, like so many others, have reconnected with those acquaintances and friends as well as alumni from high school and college. The numbers are amazing when you think about it. But, even there, we all recognize that we have “facebook friends” and “real friends.” In my case, the vast majority really are people I know and interact with from time to time – on-line, by phone, and in person.

I can tell you that’s true from being on the receiving end of a flood of so much good will, it’s hard to wrap my head around it all. Now, that good will has been more than a simple “like” on a posting. Take for example the day I left the hospital.  I arrived with a gym bag of three sets of sweats and enough underwear and sleeveless t-shirts to last me a week. I had a toiletry bag as well. I brought my laptop bag for business and I had a sac with some crossword puzzle books and a novel to read.  When  I left, I had two potted plants, six (6) grocery bags FULL of snacks and goodies, a really nice little treasure chest full of Starbucks and Godiva, three books, and more.  Most of this came by mail from east and west coast and by visitors, some of which I don’t know all that well, and one who drove a full day from Southern California. If that’s not love and true friendship, I can’t tell you what is. But there’s more.

The Houston contingent of my
fan club I didn't know I had!
I felt like I had my own cheering section from the Philippines when I saw a video posted to my timeline from one person I knew as a facebook friend, never having met in person. There was a group of people whom I’d never met wishing me well.  And then there’s another facebook friend who organized a blood / bone marrow donation drive. I was utterly delighted to see my cycling buddies from Team OC on a video. Social media kicked into high gear and people did something.  I’m just one person who happened to get a bad deal and I got the kind of overwhelming support that is genuinely humbling.  Then there are the people that I know here locally that have rallied around me. The nurse’s station has had to play the role of traffic cop on occasion, but they don’t seem to complain about it. I’ve had a steady stream of visitors that I am certain contributed to my early release.  Something tells me the nurses know the score on that one!

It really doesn’t matter if you think Facebook is the great time-suck of our time. I’m here to tell you that, in my case at least, it has been a tool to let people know in my own way what was going on without issuing an invitation to a private pity party and that message went, well...viral in a way. The people that mattered responded and I, for one, am so very grateful to have spread such a wide net in my life of friends that, whether they’re into the social media thing or not, elected to hang with me in this tough time.  You can be sure that where I’m able, I will continue to keep in touch and build relationships. The dividends are just too high not to invest! And I’ll be there where I can. Facebook, LinkedIn, and other networks are just platforms, not substitutes; but they are often the springboard to doing something tangible and making a real, tangible difference. Just like any tool, it can be a waste of time or a springboard for something great. It’s what we make of it. Look no further than the wasteland of “reality TV” and then switch the channel to something really phenomenal that transports you to another place and time, educates you, or inspires you to do something really meaningful. It all comes back to us as individuals. We can either use technology as a way to numb us from reality like any other illicit drug or we can harness it to be great.

If the few examples I cited above for this one person with a cancer diagnosis can inspire a few people, imagine what you can do to inspire yourself … and who knows how many others.  If my small network of family, friends, acquaintances, and on-line buddies can make a few things happen, those of you with substantial influence in the social media world have incredible potential to make positive changes far beyond commercial gain. Think about it. How many people in your network do you know? More importantly, how many people in your network do you influence for good? Use a little math and you quite literally have the power to change history…or you can be satisfied to like the kitten pictures and fun videos.  I know, I’m the pot calling the kettle black some days, but using a little critical thought, a bit of fact-checking, and harnessing that inner drive and passion we’re all so stoked about during interviews, there is no limit to what you can do.

So, tell me, how are you going to harness that power in your fingertips? Will you make history or histrionics?

Be well, stay strong, and much love to you all!