Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Tao of Frank Lucas

I watched the film "American Gangster" last week. It was fast-paced, it was interesting, and best of all, it was a true story.

There was one quote from the movie that really resonated with me. It comes as the main character, Frank Lucas, is admonishing one of his crew for dressing too "loudly" (think Robert DeNiro as Jimmy Conway coming down on his boys in the bar just after the Lufthansa Heist).

Anyway, here's the quote: "The loudest one in the room is the weakest one in the room."

I love this quote because of the many ways it applies to the communities in which I work, or have recently worked.

I currently work in a Fleet Support capacity for the Navy (this means I don't have one single community but I bounce from one to another with each tour). I am coming from a community that equates professionalism with subtlety and silence. I am coming to a community that literally treats operational silence as a life-and-death matter.

But I think one of the great aspects of that quote is that "loud" can be interpreted in any of a million ways.

I think that with anything you do, it's absolutely incumbent upon you to give your best. But at the same time, it's also important to do it in a somewhat smooth and subtle way. I think the Frank Lucas quote has very clear implications for the social capital/community building stuff that I blog about so often; slow and steady is a better way to tread than is loud and over-eager -- seven days a week and twice on Sunday.

It also makes me think of a Maggie Thatcher quote that I love: "Being powerful is a lot like being a lady; if you constantly have to remind everyone about it, you're probably not."

I think the same could be said for humility. I can remember a person I knew who just went on and on for what seemed like a day talking about how humble he was. Because of our differences in rank and position, I just bit my lip...but I thought, "If you really want to be humble, just live it. Be it. But if you have to keep talking about it, you're not."

Last night I read Mira Kamdar's "Planet India." On page 207, she quotes Nita Ambani, who runs the DAIS School (a super-elite preparatory school in Mumbai). Ambani talks about the work the school does with the (many) destitute in Mumbai and her goal that "our kids come to have the spirit of compassion and caring as part of their character. They should never feel like they are doing someone a favor. It should be part of who they are."

It's the same idea, just in a totally different realm. But when I read Ambani's quote I instantly saw the connection. They're trying to raise India's next generation of leaders to have a sense of caring for their community that's just ingrained in their character -- they won't have to be "loud" about it or obnoxiously self-conscious about it.

It will just be part of who they are.

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