I don’t often cry openly on an airplane in front of strangers. On a December 12, 2006 JetBlue flight to New York, I did. That day, on the History Channel, I came face to face with a man who walked the talk of his stated values and lived them so clearly that it brought me to tears. I originally shared this story that day on ActiveRain, but felt that on this 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, his story needed to be shared again.
It should be noted that one of the reasons I go out of my way to fly JetBlue and Virgin America is because of the television options they provide at every seat. It allows me to do something unusual for me. I rarely, if ever, watch the History Channel at home. But for some mysterious reason I am drawn to it on an airplane. I become transfixed by it. Once I start, I can’t stop watching.
So, on December 12, 2006, I did what I always do on those flights, I scanned through the channels to find the History Channel. As fate would have it, I landed on an episode about Rick Rescorla, the security chief at the World Trade Center offices of Morgan Stanley in New York. Rick had predicted the possibility and high probability of the 9/11 attacks and had trained the 2700 employees located on the 44th through 73rd floors of Tower 2 to get out of the building the moment they sensed danger.
The interviews with the surviving Morgan Stanley employees clearly showed that Rick, in the frantic moments immediately following the attacks, displayed his true values by making sure that every floor under his care was empty. He had a clearly stated personal value that placed the safety of others above his own and was committed to making sure every one of the Morgan Stanley employees could and would survive in the event of an attack. He refused to leave until he could be sure everyone was out. He could have left, maybe should have left. But his values would not let him. Based upon the interviews, my bet is he never gave it a second of thought.
All but 6 of the 2700 Morgan Stanley employees made it home that day to hug their friends and relatives.
Rick did not. He was trapped in the rubble of Tower 2 and his body was never found. He died proving that his stated values were his true values. He’d be alive today if he had been less than authentic in the statement of his values. But he wasn’t. His words and values matched. Thankfully.
As I reflect on 9/11, I am humbled by people like Rick Rescorla. I feel small. I know that my values truly show themselves in times of stress. Its easy to live my stated values in good times, when there’s no pressure. It’s adversity, more often than not, that brings my true values to light. The light of adversity is intense. Its impossible to hide what you truly value in those times.
I have no idea what I would have done in Rick’s situation. I question whether my own values would have led me to heroic acts. Perhaps not. Perhaps if it were my wife and children in the building? Certainly. My family members? Certainly. Those who I knew and called close friends? I hope so. Names on an employee list, who I had already warned and given detailed instructions on what to do in case something like that were to occur? I just don’t know. I’d like to think so, but I honestly don’t know.
I will probably never have to find out. The odds are against it. And you probably won’t either. It’s one of the blessings of living in this country. The stresses you and I face on a daily basis are far less critical. They create decisions that are not so black and white. The choices aren’t so stark. They are usually grey.
Stressful times tell us more about ourselves than good times.
Those stressful times are the ones we need to pay closer attention to. If we do, we’ll see the truth of what we value. Did I overreact? Did I fudge a bit? Did I stretch the truth? Did I out and out lie to save my skin? What was I afraid of? What did I value? It may be painful to admit, but these are the moments I need to pay attention to. They are the truth. My true personal brand shows through in the stress.
There have been many times in my life in the past, and many more to come in the future, when I will be asked to choose between living a value I view as noble, one I laud and would be happy to proclaim as mine, and choosing to act out another value that I might seek to hide, a less noble value that would be uncomfortable to address in public.
Do I always choose the noble value? No. I’d love to be able to tell you I do, but I don’t.
Sitting at my desk today as we all reflect on the 9/11 attacks, I am proud of the actions taken by Rick Rescorla and happy that there are men like Rick who I can look to for inspiration.
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Feature photo credit: RickRescorla.com