June 15, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with mission statements.

More honest: I’ve had a like/hate relationship with mission statements.

Most honest: I hate mission statements.

Hate is a strong word, too strong to be used toward a meaningless gathering of words. I don’t think much of mission statements, but when I do I laugh.

Mission statements are collections of pious and upbeat words, typically drawn from a very limited business vocabulary and describing an organiztion so amorphous and indeterminate as to be anybody anywhere. Every company, nonprofit and juice stand has a statement that reads something like:

“Our mission is to quench people’s thirst by making, serving and selling drinks.

You can insert adjectives, nouns and prepositions, but the mission statements I’ve read all sound like they come from a mission-statement generator. And they may, since a quick Google search brings up seven such generators on the first page alone. It’s sort of like Mad Libs for the professional class.

I was once asked to write a mission statement, a mistake on a supervisor’s part. Being me, I did not follow the cut-and-paste, insert-your-goals-here model and instead wrote a 375-word prose poem that does not use the word “mission” or “goal” or even the mission-statement stalwart “by.” Still, it’s one of the few pieces of writing I’ve ever done of which I am completely proud, and which I shared with the Hope staff when I first became director here.

It is not about liability.

It is about reliability

It is not about what a judge would say.

It is about judgement.

It is not about hiding.  It is not about shame. 

It is about following that still, small voice within.

It is not about the passive voice. 

It is about the active voice. 

It is not about being acted upon. 

It is about acting. 

It is not about being an object. 

It is the subject.

It is not about you. 

It is about I. 

It is not about me. 

It is about us.

It is not about rights. 

It is about responsibility.

It is not about money.  It is never about money.

It is not about the law. 

It is about being honest, true and reasonable, regardless of the law.

It is not about breaking the rules.  It is not about following the rules. 

It is above, beyond and behind the rules.

It is about a code engraved in the mind, written on the heart, tattooed on the soul.

It is about doing instant moral calculus in your head.  It is about taking time to check your work. 

It is not about the times table.

It is not about time.  It is not about beginning and ending.  It is not about precedent.

It is about now. 

It is not about covering your butt. 

It is about covering the bases.

It is not about not doing the wrong thing.

It is about doing the right thing.

It is not about agenda items, setting priorities or action plans.

It is the right action at the right time.

We are the right people.

It is about taking responsibility.  It is about being responsible.  It is about making choices.  It is about seeing that there are always   choices. 

It is not about blame, excuses or retribution.

It is about being rational. 

It is not about rationalizing.

It is about appealing to that which is best within us. 

It is not about comparing ourselves to the worst of those about us.

It is about continually and constantly questioning the worthiness and wisdom of our own actions. 

It is about assuming the best in others. 

It is about acting as if this were a perfect world, and making choices that will help to make it so.

{This just in!—this thing I wrote a while ago is now available as part of an online scam. Even more than selling books with my name on them, I now feel like a real live author. Imagine being so good a writer your words are stolen from you. It makes a fella proud.

Seriously, though, do not take any two lines from this and put them into Google. If you do, you may be offered a chance to give your credit card number to who knows who and download a copy of an ebook called “What It Is.” These words are mine, and I would never have published a single poem as an ebook.

You’ve been warned.}

You matter. I matter. We matter.

Keith