Opinion Columns & Blogs

Mark E. McCormick: What is necessary is not always comfortable

Civic leadership, in its most productive form, asks more from us than we're willing to give.

But if we want the progress, we eventually have to give more than we may feel comfortable giving.

Here's a recent example from my life.

A request crashed into my comfortable little world. It was the kind of request I knew I didn't want to oblige before the question fully unfolded: An attorney acquaintance asked me to begin visiting a jailed client.

Why was this request so important? Because the young man has no family here. Because the young man only sees the attorney, and when he does, they only discuss the case. Because the young man feels alone.

Why ask me? My journalistic body of work (I used to be a columnist for The Eagle) left an impression of me as someone who could communicate care and concern to this lost young man.

I decided to do it, despite my discomfort, because what's necessary isn't always comfortable. Doing what's necessary and uncomfortable drives progress on difficult issues.

That understanding didn't make this any easier.

My parents grew up in an era where a traffic stop or an arrest for a black male could devolve into a horrific beating — or worse. They reared me toward a healthy fear of law enforcement. And jail visits, while honorable, have consequences.

Could I get subpoenaed? Could I or my family become targets? Could this add one more obligation to my plate, which is already so full it needs sides?

As a columnist, I exhorted people to stop hiding behind busy schedules and melt back into society, so I couldn't refuse this request. I reasoned that my inclination to run from this request meant I should face it.

Consider this in your own life. Should you volunteer to work with wayward kids? Should you join that political campaign? Should you take a public stand on some issue?

I'm already making the visits, and though I'm still uncomfortable, I'm blessed by the experience.

If we want change in this world, we must get comfortable with discomfort. The greater our tolerance for discomfort and uncertainty, the greater our chances for positive change. This axiom holds true in many aspects of life, from accepting more responsibility at work to exercising and dieting.

Sacrificing comfort for a greater cause frames the gateway to change, even though, as we pass through that portal, we're like the scriptural camel passing through the eye of a needle. Our comfortable little worlds get turned upside down.

If you receive a request such as the one I received, consider it. Any act of leadership begins with a personal choice. Leadership isn't only about moving people to do difficult work. It first requires convincing people resistant to change to do just that.

I've realized this through the request I received, so I'm starting with me.