Let's Resolve to Reward Our Wounded Warriors

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Let's Resolve to Reward Our Wounded Warriors

By: John A. Baden, Ph.D.
Posted on December 27, 2006 FREE Insights Topics:

People make New Year’s resolutions to change their behavior. That’s why so many fail. Stopping unhealthy habits such as smoking or overeating are commitments that require the self-deprivation of pleasure. Vowing to exercise and substitute reading for TV is a positive step to self-improvement, but hard to maintain. The lower the costs or the higher the benefits of change, the more likely is success. Alas, most strategies for self-improvement have short half-lives; few survive intact from New Year’s to Groundhog Day.

Here’s an easy resolution, one requiring only alertness to positive and constructive programs: “I resolve to recognize social entrepreneurs.” A second step, only slightly more demanding, is to reward constructive innovative behavior with positive comments. This isn’t hard -- and the exercise is likely to improve your attitude. To go a step further, you could resolve to contribute time, material, and money to these community-enhancing entrepreneurial ventures. Being alert, you’ll find many opportunities to honor this resolution.

This is certain: our environment, social and natural, will be altered in 2007, likely, at an accelerated rate. And I’m sure there will be much to lament. Fortunately, there is also much to cheer. There are many good people in our community attempting to do unambiguously good things. Let’s resolve to help them succeed.

Volney Steele, a retired physician, recently introduced me to a prospective opportunity. It builds on the success of Greta and Robert Mathis, founders of Eagle Mount, a truly remarkable example of social entrepreneurship. (See www.eaglemount.org/.)

Volney would like to replicate Eagle Mount’s services and design special outdoor activities for American troops wounded in Iraq. Here’s what he suggested while on a treadmill at the Ridge. (Vol is a great role model!) Some Iraq veterans were taken on a float trip by Bud Lilly, a nationally respected fishing guide. Last spring my colleague, Pete Geddes, saw such an outing on the Smith River. We know there are thousands of disabled veterans who would benefit from similar experiences.

“Disabled” can range from psychological injury to some terrible physical loss or deformity. A small group of fishermen, perhaps with a professional guide, could design trips tailored to the requirements of disabled veterans. VA physical rehabilitation centers could help us launch this worthwhile program by advising vets of its creation and linking them to us.

Volney told me: “Leadership by people who know how to organize, finance, etc., would make the difference between success or failure.… With help, a person in a wheelchair or even on a gurney could enjoy this outdoor recreation, just like Eagle Mount’s Cancer Survivors.”

What a great idea! This offers a wonderful opportunity for the Bozeman community. We have all the ingredients for success: superb fishing, exceptional air service, an army of top fishers, excellent fishing shops, and a strong tradition of helping others. All that is lacking is an entrepreneur to organize, motivate, coordinate, inspire, cajole, and secure funds for this venture.

But I don’t advocate tax money to fund this worthwhile idea, for it ultimately distorts and degrades the process by replacing compassion with coercion. There are several strong reasons to avoid the temptations of federal financing. First, it is unethical shirking to shift responsibility for supporting our favorite charities. Those with the greatest wealth, contacts, and sophistication, have the most political influence. If we use it for this good goal, we could parade our good intentions while depriving unknown but more needy folks of public largess. We clearly have local resources to succeed.

Second, federal money always comes with strings that severely constrain innovations and flexibility. Imagine an OSHA-approved Mackenzie boat for amputees and ADA-mandated ramps to load wheelchairs on fishing rafts. Well-intended but bureaucratically determined safety requirements would inhibit success. Compliance costs would discourage if not swamp the venture.

Third, federal money would ultimately corrupt or distort the mission. It is the rare exception that probes this rule of political economy. Purity of motive doesn’t assure that “This will be different.”

Ramona and I support Vol’s effort. We’ll do the easy stuff: improve fishing access to our spring creek and ponds, offer our pavilion, and contribute modest sums. But we know the key to success is an entrepreneur. I hope you’ll resolve to help.

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