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The EX-factor: EXample or EXcuse

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Steve McDonald
  • 451st Air Expeditionary Wing Command Chief
Here is another little peek into the McDonald household. As many of you may know, my wife and I have four children. About two weeks ago, my oldest son Matthew turned 18 and will be leaving the house in the near future to start his own life. I'm proud of my son and the man he has become. I think he is a fantastic example of what a young man should be.

At times during his life, he has been expected to be the example for others. Being the oldest child, my wife and I would hold him up (sometimes, but not all the time) as an example to our other children, and mainly because he had already been through the situation we were discussing. We weren't making comparisons since we believe that's not fair to do between siblings. Additionally, he is a very good baseball player (and huge fan of the World Series Champions Yankees) and has been looked to as an example on the ball field for both skills and sportsmanship. We have even had other parents comment on what a fine example he is for their own children.

In addition to being used as an example, my son has also been used as an excuse. He is like many other young people who do the occasional bird-brained stunt or forget to act responsibly. Sometimes when he and his younger brother, Gabriel, would come home late or do something they shouldn't have done, Gabriel would use Matthew as an excuse. After all, if Matthew is to be the example to follow then he can definitely be used as the excuse for Gabriel's actions. Makes perfect sense when you are a teenager.

So, the question is how Matthew can be an example in one situation and an excuse in another. The answer is quite simple though. How Matthew is regarded depends on his actions. If he does what is right, he's being the example. If he's doing something that is wrong, he may be used as an excuse.

Sometimes it's amazing how such simple truths can apply to so many things. Instead of thinking about the McDonald boys, you can apply this same gauge to leaders in the Air Force. Noncommissioned officers, senior noncommissioned officers and officers are supposed to lead by example. They are supposed to set and uphold standards. I have known many NCOs, SNCOs and officers who have been tremendous examples for me personally.

On the other hand, I have seen NCOs, SNCOs and officers used as an excuse for substandard behavior or failure to fulfill responsibilities. I can't tell you how many times I have heard things such as "well my supervisor doesn't get involved in activities so I don't have to," "my NCOIC said it was faster if I do it this way rather than the way the book says," or "well, have you seen his moustache?" It seems natural that Airmen emulate the behavior of their leaders.

I'd like to share two quotes that are applicable. The first is from Albert Einstein. He said "Setting an example is not the main means of influencing another, it is the only means." Additionally, Benjamin Franklin said, "He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else."

So the question I have is, are you an EXample or an EXcuse? You can believe that you are one or the other whether you want to be or not.