On a wall near my desk hangs a paper snowflake. It’s really not much to look at as far as fashionable art goes, but it is one of my treasured keepsakes from the year I spent in Iraq.
During the Christmas season of 2005, my National Guard unit was the recipient of many thoughtful gifts from folks wanting to express their appreciation and support for our service. One Nebraska elementary school sent us a string of paper snowflakes, each one unique in its design and containing a simple hand written message from a young student. Most messages were rather expected, such as “Merry Christmas”, “We Miss You”, and “Come Home Soon”. One particular snowflake caught my eye, with its message searing an unforgettable place in my heart. Scrawled in grade school penmanship were the words: “DON’T LET US DOWN”.
My mind immediately flew back some thirty-plus years to the revered adoration that I had as a youngster for the soldiers serving in Vietnam, and the pedestal upon which they stood in my eyes. Luckily for me at a young age, I wasn’t exposed to (or at least not aware of) the negative press and exposure of that conflict. My immediate prayer was that this younger generation would not be scarred by such revolting behavior as that displayed by US soldiers at Abu Ghraib a year earlier.
My next thoughts were of my own daughters (as well as children yet to come along). Would my behavior be worthy of their respect and love, and could they emulate their own ideals and moral values based on their observations of their father?
Upon returning home, with its prominent location near my desk, my favorite snowflake continues to remind me of my responsibility to maintain my moral and ethical compass in all facets of my life, even including my association with SRM.
This past year, I had occasion to renew my CPRM status and took the opportunity to review SRM’s Code of Ethics (coincidentally, I think one benefit of the CPRM program is the biennial opportunity to reflect on this Code…maybe I need to post it to the wall next to my snowflake for more frequent review!). While all eight points of the Code are worthy of discussion, I’ll refer my remarks only to the first.
- Foster an environment where all people are encouraged to participate in the Society and the management and enjoyment of rangelands;
Most Society members are probably aware of the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force that was organized several years ago by former President Val Anderson. The Task Force enjoyed continued support last year under the direction of President Larry Howery. Under the current leadership of President Barry Irving, the Board of Directors had the opportunity to unanimously accept a new Diversity Statement for SRM (see accompanying article by Amy Ganguli and Joel Brown). I was pleased by both the hard work of the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force and the energetic support of the BOD for this activity. Although this Diversity Statement could be analyzed as simply a feel-good theme, if allowed to permeate our personal reflection (much like my snowflake), it can guide us to be more cognizant of our thoughts, words, and actions, particularly concerning how we could be perceived by others. Do our activities, both individual and collective, truly reflect our desires to live up to the first point in our Code of Ethics?
We recognize that our actions as land managers often have effects well beyond the scope of our careers. As I continue to gain experience, I more fully realize that we are each running our individual legs of a great relay race, and that our collective success will be determined by generations yet to be charged with their turn to carry the baton. Our legacy will be based both on how well we manage the baton exchange (drops are bad), as well as our ability to stay true to our course. If we are successful, there will be many that will have the opportunity to participate in the management of rangelands and even more with the opportunity to enjoy them.
Somewhere in my mind I see a future elementary student with a similar message for us (perhaps on another snowflake)…DON’T LET US DOWN.