By Peter Weddle, CEO TAtech
It was the meme of 2020. “I can’t wait until we can get back to normal.” In most cases, when someone made such a statement, they meant two things: an end to the pain, anxiety and disruption that seemed to frequent every day of the past ten months and their replacement with what life was like in 2019 and the years prior (at least as they were fondly remembered). For most of us, it was an entirely reasonable wish. Who wouldn’t want such a lousy year to end and the good old days to return? But, ask yourself this: is going back to what existed before 2020 a big enough ambition for 2021? Can we do even better there a more fitting, a more inspiring description of what we want to come next?
Why would we want to do better than a return to normal? For one simple but indisputable reason. Getting back to normal is about as motivating as a brick.
No matter how much we sugarcoat it, normalcy simply doesn’t provide a sufficient justification for the sacrifices we have already made and those we will still have to endure in order to face down the Covid pandemic. The hard truth is that the pain, anxiety and disruption of 2020 didn’t magically disappear on January 1, 2021. We’re going to have to suppress our fatigue and continue the fight for many more months to come. And, to achieve that level of determination and effort, we need a goal that is more rewarding than simply turning back the clock.
What might that goal be? Sadly, the best guide we have is yet another catastrophe, but one we faced four score and less than a year ago: World War II. At first blush, such a source of inspiration may seem inappropriate, but consider this. During that terrible conflict, America lost 291,557 soldiers in combat. As of December 10, 2020, the nation had lost 291,754 mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles and grandmothers and grandfathers to the Covid pandemic. Today, that tragic figure exceeds 350,000 or more Americans than the combat fatalities in the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Iraq War, the War in Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf War combined.
So, what goal did Americans have to steel their determination to prevail in World War II? What vision gave them the strength to endure the hardships of that challenge? It wasn’t a call to return to normalcy or even to remember “a date which will live in infamy.” Rather, the goal was expressed as a simple but unambiguous phrase that gave the efforts of every man and woman a worthy purpose and justified their courage and sacrifices. It called to each individual and to the nation as a whole and explained why they should exert their last full measure of devotion.
The phrase was first publicly pronounced by President Franklin Roosevelt after his meeting with Prime Minister Winston Churchill in Casablanca in January, 1943. Here’s how it’s described by the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum:
“Although hundreds of pages of detailed plans and contingencies were written during the Casablanca Conference, two words stand out as perhaps the most significant of any uttered during the entire war. Two words that defined President Roosevelt’s pledge that ‘… the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.’ Two words that would set an almost impossible target for the greatest military force the world has ever known ‘Unconditional Surrender.’”
That brief yet profound statement of the country’s objective crystallized the reason for and the purpose of everything Americans were being asked to do in World War II. And as history records, they responded. They were inspired by its unflinchingly heroic definition of victory. They felt empowered by the undeniably extraordinary scale of its challenge. And to a person – man and woman; black, brown and white; native America and immigrant – they heard its clarion call and did their duty. They became what we now honor as the Greatest Generation.
Today’s American generations deserve no less for the effort and sacrifice that will be asked of them to overcome the pandemic and all of the other challenges that confront the nation. Instead of returning to normalcy, we must be encouraged, enabled and empowered to reach for something so uncommon that it too will seem like an “impossible target.” Our goal must be to give every single person the genuine opportunity and means to become the best of themselves. Our pledge must be to achieve Unconditional Actualization For All.
As Maslow made clear, actualization is the summit of human need and motivation. It is each and every person’s innate desire to experience their epitome of being by engaging in whatever activity challenges, inspires and fulfills them. Unconditional Actualization, therefore, is the individuation of those self-evident truths we hold dear. It achieves its unconditionality by guaranteeing every citizen’s access to the fullest and most rewarding expression of themselves. As the Founding Father’s put it more mellifluously, it is each person’s right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Further, to make its promise credible, Unconditional Actualization also signifies the universal satisfaction of every other need identified in Maslow’s hierarchy. Reaching the epitome of being human is possible only if every American also has their basic and psychological needs met. They must be able to put food on the table and a roof over their head and to enjoy a healthy and secure life. They must also feel that they are a full and equal member of American society and that they are recognized and respected for their value as a citizen. Those are preconditions for actualization, so this twenty-first century call to action also achieves unconditionality by eliminating any factor that could restrain or prevent every citizen from achieving them. It isn’t two words, but four. It isn’t Unconditional Actualization, but Unconditional Actualization For All.
Peter Weddle is the author or editor of over two dozen books and a former columnist for The Wall Street Journal. He is also the founder and CEO of TAtech: The Association for Talent Acquisition Solutions. You can check out his latest books on Amazon or in the TAtech Bookstore.