Sunday, August 30, 2009

Senator Ted Kennedy's Gifts to Those He Cared About Are Available to Us Nonprofits, To Improve Our Agencies, Too

With the passing of Senator Ted Kennedy there have been many memorials, this week. No matter what you think of Ted Kennedy, because they are a family that values active public service, and as they are people who sincerely mean well for the community at large, there are lessons in the memorials for the nonprofit sector.

Like so many I was inspired by his son, Ted's, eulogy. Perhaps the most moving memory that he shared was that of his father, after the loss of Ted Jr.'s own leg, sledded with him saying, after Ted Jr. lost his confidence and wanted to give up; 'I know you can do it'... 'I know you could do anything'. Having a parent behind you is a gift, but of course not all of us grew up with this support and affirmation. Being able to provide this affirmation and belief in oneself, to yourself, but also giving affirmation to the ones in your life that you believe in is the larger lesson, here. The benefit of the affirmation would be nice but the example that Kennedy set, specifically, what he gave his son, is now a challenge before each of us, and it's a challenge that we can take up with tremendous success both in our personal lives, but also through the work of our agencies in our communities.

Maria Schriver spoke on Meet the Press, today, about how both her uncle, Teddy, and her mother, Eunice left her with the lesson (among other lessons) that in this day and age of 'everything must be fast' or 'we must receive a quick return' both her mother (Eunice's work for the equal rights of those with intellectual disabilities) and her uncle (Ted Kennedy's work to provide good health care to all) fought over the course of all of their years for what they believed in. Despite barriers, difficulties, critical press, and more adversity during each of their efforts, they each persevered undaunted for years and years. Even the most jaded person can appreciate this point. Every effort can be difficult and usually faces at least some adversity. True belief in the idea, a commitment to the work to be done, and knowing (not just liking, but knowing) the goal is the work of each and every nonprofit.

Shriver said that her mother Eunice always asked, her, as she grew up and as she began her career and community work, 'what's the idea?' and 'you have to have an idea'. This is incredibly pertinent to nonprofit sector organizational development, mission development, program development, and even fundraising - that it occurred to me just how deeply ingrained community work must be in their family's values, but also day to day lives.

Of course, many of the nonprofits around the world that provide support, counsel, assistance or a lifeline to others (people, families, animals, the elderly, etc.) risk volunteer and staff burn out, every day, each day, because it is exhausting for anyone to repeatedly learn of the horrors others live through, while maintaining the capacity to give to those needing help without being, themselves, crushed eventually (mentally, emotionally, physically, etc.). Shriver said of her uncle, Senator Ted Kennedy, that he had such a tremendous capacity for others' difficulties and was compassionate with those who were needing help or could not help themselves because of pains and personal tragedies that he, himself, lived through. He knew what it was like to be treated badly, or to be the victim of tragedy, without recourse. She said he was an imperfect man. She spoke of his tremendous faith as being a great pillar for him, personally, during the various tragedies that he had to survive. His son spoke, in his eulogy, of another of his father's lessons (gifts) to him: turn tragedies into something that is good. While I do not think for a moment that something that may sound like a simple platitude can relieve anyone of their compassion burnout (such as care givers experience, eventually) - I do think there is another challenge in this lesson, for any of us willing to take it up. The tragedy is being turned into something good each time any victim is helped out of harm's way.

The country lost a tremendous patriot, this week. His legacy is his accomplishments for the 'common person', but the lessons he left for his family are there for us, in our sector, to learn from, too. We, in the nonprofit sector, can use the examples he left and the lessons he shared to improve our organizations' human resources management, how we treat ourselves and others, and to strengthen our resolve to deliver on our mission statements.

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