Wednesday, April 7, 2010

"The Whole Person"...Spirit Vs Execution

Over the past few weeks, I have had varied involvement in two selection boards considering potential Naval Officers for selection into our active and reserve components of our Total Force Wardroom. In the process, our prime directive has become "The Whole-Person Concept." That model is intended to overtly encourage all of us to acknowledge applicants who may not have achieved high standardized test scores, attended prominent universities or enjoyed a stellar grade point average because they were busy overcoming other obstacles in their lives. Unfortunately, not all hold to the spirit of the concept, but instead to the underlying agenda.

As a devoted father, I am a bit concerned with our current trajectory and feel as though my personal situation, largely based on deliberate choice, is stacking the cards against my son. Because my wife and I chose to wait until we were married to start a family, we choose to take our commitment to family seriously, and we work hard to deliberately nurture our son, we may very well have provided him the greatest obstacle of all, an opportunity to develop at his own pace relatively free of unnecessary distraction. With good reason, "The Whole-Person Concept" has always been there, but by making it the prime consideration, children like my son will likely be placed in the category of "overprivileged" and his accomplishments through young adulthood will be measured by a different standard. Rather than acknowledge those who have accomplished much by a singular standard and then acknowledge the subjective level of adversity they might have had to overcome in the process to meet/exceed that standard, we choose to knock perceived "overprivileged" people down a notch just because we believe they have not had to work as hard as others to enjoy their high level of accomplishment.

Though recent examples at work bring this to the forefront of my mind, unnecessary qualifiers surround us and undermine accomplishments...

- Billy is a good football player, but it's only because he is 6'6" and his Dad played in the NFL
- Sally is really good in biology, but that's because her Mom is a Doctor
- Mr. Johnson runs a very successful business, but he inherited the company from his Dad and didn't build it himself

Which two would you choose to join your workcenter (please excuse the omission of other important variables)?
- "Jimmy" has a 2.2 GPA from "On-line University," but he's a single dad and has overcome much adversity
- "Suzy" came from a broken home, cared for her younger siblings, held down a job yet achieved academic greatness and is a wonderful communicator
- "Johnny" graduated from an Ivy League University with honors and grew up "privileged" from both a parental and monetary perspective

Suzy is an easy choice, but "Jimmys" seem to be rising above "Johnnys" as the "The Whole-Person Concept" replaces the "Best and Fully Qualified" standard used for years. I submit the two models are not mutually exclusive, but instead "The Whole-Person Concept" is an input to deciding who is "Best and Fully Qualified." When used properly, "Suzys" will always rise to the top and "Jimmys" will be valued over "Johnnys" when appropriate (but we are beginning to make it the default response). In essence, the spirit of the concept is being undermined in its execution.

I ask that we all continue to stack the cards against our children in the minds of those who have hijacked "The Whole-Person Concept." We must give our children the advantage of what was once considered our parental responsibility, but is now considered by some creating an "overprivileged" environment. Likewise, We need to continue to do our part to help others achieve their full potential, regardless of the perceived advantages they enjoyed in adolescence, as we celebrate high standards without unnecessary qualifiers.

Note: I write this the day after the NCAA Men's Basketball National Championship, where Butler and Duke competed for the title. These two programs exemplify the spirit of "The Whole-Person Concept," whereby the barrier to entry into the respective university is personal character and demonstrated commitment to academics, while basketball prowess is what allows them to represent their school on the court. Unfortunately, this is not the norm in college athletics and our public sector is arguably following suit.


  1. I read you loud and clear on this. I suspended award of the RADM James S. McFarland NJROTC Scholarship for one year after the selection committee chose a minority female, single mother, academically challenged individual who could not assemble a letter of thanks to the RADM's widow without assistance. Merit matters, principles matter, character matters. Thank you for your post.

    You and your wife are giving your son a gift that is invaluable. That gift will also present him with enormous challenges. Fortunately, he will have the character to overcome them.

  2. Sean, I'm going to be the "Devil's advocate" here.

    The 2.2 single dad with the on-line degree may well be far more qualified than 4.0 Harvard grad. The 2.2 guy knows how to do things in life -- hold down a job, be a parent (presuming he's a good parent), overcome "adversity" (NFI), and handle responsibility. The Harvard guy, on the other hand, knows how to go to school.

    We take in many 2.2 GPA officers every year from USNA and other service academies. Are they more qualified than the 2.2 guy in your example? Who would be hired if the Harvard guy pulled a 2.2 GPA? Admittedly, I'm not a Harvard or miltary academy grad so I don't know what those experiences are like, just as they don't know what it's like to earn a degree over 12 years while deploying most of that time (my path). As you may recall, my wife is a USAFA grad and we've had many discussions about whose path to a B.S. degree was more challenging. In the end we've agreed that each comes with own set of difficulties.

    I believe we need to be looking for leaders to fill our ranks rather than academicians. Each person has to be judged on their merits, but I'll take the solid leader who's an average student over the 4.0 guy/gal who can't lead hungry Sailors to the galley.

    It's a sad statement that a kid is considered "overprivileged" because he has a mom and a dad living with him at home teaching him values and responsibility. Fortunately, our kids will be in the same boat as your son.

  3. Kevin - I agree wih you 100%, so it's clear at I could have written my points a little better. As a USNA grad who grew up in a home where my Dad chipped away at his B.S. while raising us, I firmly believe I had it easier. That said, I am not ready to take something away from an Ivy League grad just because they have yet to prove they will succeed in the face of adversity. I guess my point is that we all should consider "The Whole Person," but when we remind ourselves to do just that we are really saying, "Give the nod to the perceived "have not."

    Thanks for the comment. We are really going to miss you in the wardroom!