What the world needs most today is less shoulder-shrugging and a lot more shoulder-squaring. From our leaders in Washington to each of us as individual citizens, we need to step up, step in and together step forward to solve problems.
We can’t shrug our shoulders when we look at the plight of the homeless or drug-addicted on our streets and walk past on the other side. We can’t passively allow representatives in Congress to tell us nothing can be done about health care, taxes or immigration and that we should just lower our expectations.
We can never throw up our hands in frustration or defeat and declare that our families or our communities cannot be strengthened or revitalized. Nor can we shrug and sigh, “It isn’t my job,” when we see the huge task of reforming education and poverty programs that aren’t meeting the unique needs of individuals.
Happily, we have some extraordinary “shoulder-squarers” here in Utah. Joseph Grenny and his team at The Other Side Academy have launched a visionary program that takes individuals who have been on the street, on drugs and in and out of the criminal justice system, then teaches them the personal and vocational skills they need to become contributing members of society.
It is a transformational organization that — in the process of delivering amazing service in their moving company, food truck and thrift store — empowers its students to develop the internal strength, personal skills and vocational ability to square their own shoulders and create their own future.
Another example is Jose Enriques, founder and executive director of Latinos in Action, a nonprofit dedicated to helping Latino students access opportunities for leadership, service and college and careers. As a public school teacher, Enriques recognized that too many Latino students were slipping through the cracks — not graduating or entering college. Most resources for these students offered help to address what the students lacked, such as English language skills. Enriques wanted a program that asked Latino students to bring their assets — their brains and gifts — to achieve great things.
What started with Enrique’s shoulder-squaring course at his school is now an organization helping students in over 100 schools around the country. Too many people had looked at Latino youth challenges and shrugged their shoulders with a “not my job” attitude. Enriques’ efforts to inspire younger Latinos and teach them to square their shoulders — for their own future and in order to serve others — has blossomed into a movement.
One person who stepped forward has made all the difference, not through a government program or law, but through the engagement of individuals and local communities.
We need an army of similar Americans who are willing to square their shoulders, take responsibility and do what needs to be done.
About a year ago I created a new version of an old story that sums up what happens with a shoulder-shrugging approach in our communities. It is a story about four citizens whose names just happen to be Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody.
There was an important job to be done in the community — helping to educate and train the young people on their vital role as citizens. Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. And while Anybody could have done it, Nobody did it. Somebody got angry because really it was Everybody’s job, yet Everybody thought Somebody would do it. But, of course, Nobody asked Anybody.
Everybody thought a meeting would help. Somebody couldn’t make it. Anybody could come up with a plan anyway. Two weeks later when Everybody checked in, Nobody had done anything, so Somebody recommended they meet again in two more weeks.
Well, Anybody could have done it; Somebody would have done it; Everybody should have done it; but in the end Nobody did it.
So, when the rising generation didn’t learn their civic duty and failed to work and serve in the community as they should, Everybody blamed Somebody and Anybody for the problem, and Nobody got back to work on a solution that Anybody could have come up with. And in the end the community failed and their future opportunities were ultimately given to Somebody else!
As individuals and communities, it is easy to be pessimistic, shoulder-shrugging citizens and hope that Somebody, Anybody, Everybody and Nobody will step up to meet the challenges we face locally and nationally. We need to create a culture of shoulder-squaring where personal responsibility, engagement and getting things right is all that really matters.
We often, and rightly, say with gratitude that we stand on the shoulders of the giants who have gone before us in our country and community. We should remember that the only reason we can stand on their shoulders is because they were willing to square them.
Boyd C. Matheson is president of Sutherland Institute, a conservative think tank that advocates for a free market economy, civil society and community-driven solutions.