Oregon (and America) made progress, expanded opportunity, and ensured autonomy through normal folks like you and me following the Principles and Practices outlined here.

Howdy……Oregon is a special place.

Wallowa Lake in winter, Oregon

“Wallowa Lake in winter, Oregon” by Bonnie Moreland (free images) is marked with CC PDM 1.0

While, at the same time, we (Oregonians and Americans) certainly have our challenges to overcome—especially this last year. I was raised by long-time Oregonians, most of whom had served or sacrificed through two wars and the Great Depression. Despite those trying times, and all the sacrifice they had endured, they relentlessly taught my sister and me to always “Do The Right Thing,” and to relentlessly work to make things better—to “leave it better than we found it.” This attitude, which is essentially Stewardship, is ingrained in me and in a lot of other Oregonians. I see Oregonians practicing stewardship every day, even when confronted with significant challenges.

What makes Oregon a special place is a combination of its natural beauty and its people. We all feel “lucky” to live in a place like Oregon, with Oregonians. But this “Specialness” didn’t just come about. Trust me, this place called Oregon in this country called America isn’t about luck, it’s about hard work, focus, and Doing The Right Thing—our Culture. Perhaps our most clever President, Thomas Jefferson, put this in perspective for us when he said: “I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.

My own background is lined with examples of making my own luck and learning from experience. I received a lot of encouragement to press on even after taking a few knocks. This encouragement was grounded in lessons passed on from my parents and grandparents: “Learn from your mistakes,” and “Don’t take yourself too seriously.” I was taught that life is full of lessons to be learned, and that I should find myself amusing (rather than take myself too seriously) as I made the natural mistakes that come from just trying things. Here is an example of what I mean…

Learning from Cows

“Oregon dairy cows” by Oregon State University is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

I have a ranch—with cows on it. Cows are teachers, too. They are good at finding the weaknesses in a ranch—they are devious and masters at escape. I’ve learned a lot from cows, have gained experience from cows, and now have better judgement as a rancher. Perhaps it goes without saying, but it’s hard to take yourself too seriously when you are learning from cows. Will Rogers thought about the inherent value in being willing to make mistakes, and then learn from them. Here’s how he put it: “Good judgement comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgement.”

Every mistake, then, adds knowledge. To learn more out in the real world, we must be willing to take risk and make mistakes. The addition of knowledge will come so long as we don’t take ourselves too seriously and turn mistakes into black marks to be forgotten.

We have a “target-rich” environment right now to learn from our mistakes—we have serious challenges in Oregon (and across the nation). These challenges must be met with energy, innovation, in the spirit of Stewardship, and always towards finding “Truth:”….the best way to do things.

This positive, but realistic, approach is the way through the various challenges we face today….and in doing so we are building on fundamentals established so well by our Founding Fathers hundreds of years ago. I’d venture to guess they never missed an opportunity to learn (even if from cows).

Where’d our “Specialness” come from?

File:Mt Jefferson in Central Oregon Warm Springs Tribe Overflight.png

“File:Mt Jefferson in Central Oregon Warm Springs Tribe Overflight.png” by Patricdouglas is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

What makes America the greatest country in the world? And, Oregon a truly special state as part of America? I would argue that most fundamentally, it is the founding principles and practices, and how we continue to apply those principles and follow those practices today. The Principles include: Justice, Equality, Bringing About Good, Doing No Harm, and Respect for Human Dignity and Autonomy. It is up to all of us to uphold and strengthen these Principles by following our Conscience. The Practices are the ones spelled out above—taking risks, endeavoring to improve and learn, and refusing to let pride get in the way of that learning.

These Principles and Practices are suited to the ambiguity and complexity that face us today. As has been the case in other periods of our history, many of us are uneasy about how business and governance is sometimes done these days. This being Oregon (and America), we can each have our own perception of all of this. We can respectfully disagree, and then use our different points of view to work together to make the world a better place—this is how America was founded, and how she can be at her best. Respectfully disagreeing, though, requires respect for one another and the humility to learn from one another – in other words, it requires what our Founding Fathers practiced and the principles my family members passed on.

Regardless of how often we disagree, what most of us can agree on is that things can always be improved. The most powerful forces for improving and changing our society for the better are not laws, rules, or believe it or not, even speeches like this one. Rather, it’s through what’s done on the ground, where the day-to-day living, commerce, and governing of the world is done and where the Principles and Practices can be applied and exercised in earnest.

That’s where you come in.

I challenge all of us to establish a Vision for your personal and family lives; and for your community, your State, and the country for the future. To do this, I urge you all to debate and learn from each other while considering key issues and key decisions—try to get to Truth and what your Conscience tells you is Right. Respectful and open discourse is essential to continuous improvement of our State and our Country. Use your Vision as a basis for debate so as to determine, to the best of your cumulative ability, “what is the right thing.”

With that “right thing” established, the next challenge is to actively engage to achieve this “Right Thing.”

Doing the right thing, day in and day out, will result over the long haul in you leaving your family, your business, your community, your State and your Country better than you found them—again, back to the essence of Stewardship.

Oregon (and America) made progress, expanded opportunity, and ensured autonomy through normal folks like you and me following the Principles and Practices outlined here. Our future progress demands the same approach and the same commitment to making our own luck by intentionally and regularly learning from our mistakes.

One final thought…doing the right thing can sometimes require asking for forgiveness, not permission. A favorite quote, attributed to the Dalai Llama, goes like this: “Know the rules, so you can break them effectively.” Imparting change on the world in a balanced, civilized way will require following the rules—especially the Rule of Law. However, rules need to be constantly improved. Remember that you have the fundamental right, and the RESPONSIBILITY, to Question…

Questioning is at the heart of learning. And, our Founders (and my parents and grandparents) taught us to do this with our neighbors, that is, to collaborate with, learn from, and respect other Oregonians, and other Americans.