Excellence

The Oxford Dictionary of English defines a hobby as “an activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure.”  When someone considers what hobbies are, most often think of things like running, hunting, computer gaming, playing basketball or something similar.  The idea of pursuing educational degrees as a pastime is not something that would be ranked among the top one hundred people surveyed and revealed during an episode of Family Feud.

Most people have hobbies.  Many of those interests come with quite hefty price tags.  The thing I love to do most in my spare time, the thing I’d rather do more than anything else at any given moment- is to learn something new.  Certainly, one can learn much among a wide array of topics by exploring the local library or even the internet.  That type of study is incomplete.  Education is not just about filling your head with new information.  The key, and most importantly to this discussion- the pleasure, arises from the application of these new discoveries in real-life scenarios where one can make a difference.

It wasn’t until late high-school years that I found a few classes that I even cared about.  Classes involving governance, the legal system and civics, as well as a few electives such as art and then human physiology which paired well with my then hobby of serving my local fire department as a Fire Explorer resonated well with me.  I have always loved serving those who are in need and am especially drawn to rapid-paced environments that provide significant challenges.  It is no wonder why I found myself drawn to the fire service.   Fast forward to Paramedic school, where the science and art of medicine intersected, and I was hooked into a profession that I wasn’t sure was for me.

The idea of learning something (and even mastering a skill) and relying upon that level of knowledge for ‘life’ is an idea that is foreign to me.  This is likely a side-effect of the constant need to learn more faced by those in the fire-service who understand there is a constant need to be better prepared for the next challenge faced during the next emergency, where those who know more than I do may not be there because of absence, multiple calls, or simple attrition.  After all, the longer we are around- the sooner we become ‘the old timers’ even when we fail to recognize who we are until it is pointed out to us.

Advancing to senior ranks early in my career only worsened the drive I felt to be prepared for even bigger problems, that I knew I didn’t know anything about.  The breadth of needed knowledge in fire administration far exceeds the ins and outs of the fire service.  The end result is that I have continued to learn, in both structured and unstructured environments- constantly.  Public Administration encompasses and even broader array of knowledge providing a wealth of opportunity to put the various components of business, economics, politics, policy, legislation and more in conjunction with well-established emergency service principles in a meaningful way.  I recognize that I am blessed to be in a position where all of my interests intersect both personally and professionally, but the arrival as such as place has only occurred with hard work and significant investment concerted professional and personal effort.

I was never one to ‘enjoy’ school in any way, shape or form.  However, there is something to be said about pursuing a course of study through a structured course of learning.  As my pursuit through higher education has continued now to the doctoral level, I have learned that I do not have the self-discipline to pursue courses of study into areas that I do not inherently agree with.  Beyond the boundary of comfort is where one (who has an open mind to new ideas) discovers new insight that quickly leads to discovery.  This area of personal growth stems from understanding and wisdom when disparate topics are synthesized in new ways.  In order not to be foolish, we must discuss and debate these ideas.  Part of that evaluation includes subjecting oneself to criticism and challenge.  Hereto the process is can be quite enjoyable- and educational.  The difference in theory and application is critical.  In order to verify what we think we know, we must ultimately place these ideas and concepts into practice.  Next, there must be an objectively evaluation of the results.

Education is an activity, just like any other hobby.  The journey is just as much a part of the process as the ability to act upon what one has learned.  Too often the goal is thought to be a grade or certificate at the end of the process.  This is where the traditional idea of education fails the student.  It is the pursuit of knowledge, one that should never end at graduation, that is both fulfilling and rewarding.  Who knows, somewhere along the line we might even be better off as a society if we could effectively shift our concept of education from chore to enjoyment and ultimately fulfillment.

I’d love to know your story and your thoughts.  Please comment below and let’s further the educational process of bettering our world!

-Jw

Jonathan M. Westendorf holds a Master of Public Administration from the University of Southern California and is a Doctor of Public Administration candidate at West Chester University in Pennsylvania.  Interests include a variety of public policy challenges including erasing the stigma associated with the opioid epidemic.  Additionaly, Westendorf is a Fire & EMS Chief for over 18-years, and is currently the 1st Vice-President of the Ohio Fire Chiefs’ Association and Legislative Committe Chair.

If the number of published blog posts is a measure, I am merely a two-day old newborn.  It doesn’t help that it took nearly three-months to publish my first post after activating WestPolicy.  Despite strong feedback and encouragement, the next post took more than fourteen-weeks.  Most readers would expect this is just another failed attempt by a want-to-be blogger that simply isn’t going anywhere.  In reality, I’ve been doing research, primarily on the best way to find my voice as an author and the various pitfalls of mediums such as these.  Nevertheless, I have authored countless ‘blog’ posts via academic discussion boards, and I long for the academic rigor and the exchange that results from well thought-out, logical, and justified arguments.

The solution to the problem of inaction is clear, start writing.  Stop worrying about everything being ‘just right’.  Enjoy the freedom that comes with not having an audience, and use it to my advantage.  Learn how to crawl, then speak; walk- then run.  My character and identity will follow the forthcoming self-discovery found by all those who must navigate adolescent development.  Maturity will follow; in due time.

An unstated problem I fear in launching a blog related to policy development is finding an audience that solely aligns with my point of view.  I see this as a liability.  The very point of a blog is to solicit dialog and thoughtful interaction from which all participants can explore and learn.  But will anyone care about such an endeavor?  This concern helps explain the traditional need for salacious headlines found in commercial endeavors which rely upon drawing readership.  I’ve decided that I can’t concern myself with such issues at this point.  Rather, be aware of the challenge and trust that I will find a way to muddle through when that time comes.

“He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying” – Friedrich Nietzsche

While this blog is new, my pursuit of evidence-based research with a corresponding ability to articulate points of view, is not.  The reality is I need to start writing and exploring.  So that is what I am setting out to do- write and discover.  I need to do so within a word length that an audience will tolerate.  At this stage, I am more interested in finding dialog and interaction with others.  I will surely tackle some ‘wicked problems’, as there are few ‘easy’ policy issues left in this advanced stage of party aligned ideology.  I hope to work past barriers such as these and rely upon the idea that any forthcoming audience will accept that mine is an emerging voice in a crowded and noisy environment.  It will take some time to build a body of work that will better identify this burgeoning vision of what ‘could be’.  In the coming months, and (hopefully) years, I hope to influence policy leaders to construct public decisions based upon a foundation of research and knowledge.

Public opinion is fickle- but too often the ‘loudest’ or ‘greatest-financed’ voices are the only motivating factor in decisions that truly matter.  It is foolhardy to believe that research can be the sole motivation from which we govern.  Experts from the applicable or relevant fields of study and practice, both direct and indirect, also play an important role in this experiment.  I hope to find the voice of these professionals within the resulting interaction and help provide a medium from which their expertise will cultivate this interplay.

I do not seek unilateral points of view, collaboration is the goal.  The expression of different points of view is desired, but personal attacks and unsubstantiated arguments must be prevented.  If there is an aspect of a topic that disputed, I simply ask that the rebutal be supported with research or substantiated by evidentiary arguments.  Historically, I purposely turn to sources that I do not naturally align with.  I see great value in opposing points of view and the interaction that follows.  The search for value and insight within foreign perspectives is where true learning seems to occur.  Perhaps that same discovery will result for others.

My interests are broad.  Perhaps that is part of the reason why I believe a blog will provide an appropriate outlet to explore the vast range of issues that appeal to me.  My goal is to construct a trusted source whereby both students and policy makers may reliably turn for source material of knowledge and respected insight.  It is not lost upon me that this blog will span a length of time that will expose my theory to evolution of thought.  As the effect of this project ripples outward, I trust that new value and discovery will result for all who choose to follow this journey.

Please join me, if you will, as we work together to explore what could be.  If you would like to contribute as an author, I am more than willing to expose that possibility as well.  In a world that relies upon both academic and practical application of principle and strategy, I believe these attributes are sorely missing in many of today’s debates.  This endeavor is an attempt to fill that gap.  Please follow WestPolicy by pressing the light blue WordPress button on the sidebar.  I thank you for your consideration and contribution.

-Jw

Dinoland in Disney’s Animal Kingdom has a distinct feel that differs from other themed portions of the massive resort.  Known the world over for excellence, the Walt Disney Company provides unparalleled experiences to their guests, obsessing over the tiniest of details.  Imagine my surprise upon entering this section of the park that looks and feels like a local street carnival.  What catches your eye first?

Dinoland

How different does this scene look from your local parking lots?  Does anything stand out?  For me, the crack filled blacktop with faded striping was absolute theming perfection.  This effect carries through into the queue lines where most would never even consider looking.  It was so well done, I wasn’t convinced that this area wasn’t simply repurposed.  I’ve been assured by some longtime cast member ‘experts’, it wasn’t.

Attention to detail- so perfect that I am sure it goes virtually unnoticed.  There is a team out there who planned details such as these, and it is likely they wondered if the extra effort would be noticed, or appreciated.

The Pew Research Center reports that trust in public government is near historic lows.  The news isn’t all bad as a 2014 Gallop Survey reveals local government retains a much higher degree of public confidence (72% approval).  We each have a role to play in reversing these trends.

When have you ever known someone to complain about excellence?  As in life, negatives are more noticeable and provide fodder for citizen discussion.  Excellence often goes completely unnoticed, much like the parking lot in Dinoland.  Residents will notice a smooth ride to work only briefly following the repair of a much needed, and perhaps long neglected road damaged by seasonal changes or untold numbers of underground utility repairs.

I have adopted the motto ‘Striving for Excellence’ and placed it on each of the responding fire and EMS apparatus within my organization.  Intended to serve as a subtle reminder, each firefighter and paramedic has a role to play in our organizational commitment.  Likewise, the community should expect that we uphold this promise to them.  Find ways to build confidence by maintaining community trust.  Faithful provision of governmental services that are both consistent and compassionate will result in citizen confidence.  Citizen satisfaction should be just as important as consumer loyalty is to Disney executives.

There is a balance, and your citizens must be involved in assisting government leaders in striking it.  The opposing side of the scale is, of course, available fiscal resources.  The fulcrum must be adjusted as you incrementally raise the bar and the community increases the investment placed in the various divisions and departments benefiting the citizens.  Involve formal and informal organizational leadership in concert with community organizations and representatives.  Solve organizational problems by focusing on obvious pain points.  Find the ‘easy’ wins and build upon them.

Excellence is universally recognized.  Only those keenly focused will notice the subtle details.  Certainly the measures vary and the expectations differ, but good governance deserves just as much attention to detail, as Disney has invested in recreating a community festival- and all of the pleasant values of community that this theme park relies upon recreating.