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Water, steam and attitude.

Question: What is the difference between water and steam?

Answer: One degree!

This month marks a milestone for me. Ten years ago, I journeyed to Denver to accept the executive director position for this association. Over this period of time, I have traveled thousands of miles to meet, talk with, observe and study you -- the thousands of environmental professionals who leave their homes each morning to invest yet another day of their lives to make the environment a little bit healthier before the day is done.

What a fascinating and inspiring ten years! My personal journal has become a treasure full of stories -- some of which inspire while others disappoint. Over this decade of service to this profession, I have seen both water and steam. What is more significant, however, is that I have seen much water that seems to be merely a degree away from becoming steam. This has intrigued me to no end, for it begs the question: what does it take to elevate the professional in this field that last one degree such that their example becomes an inspiration and motivation to all whom the professional touches?

After ten years of both studying and being immersed in this profession, I think I know. Let me share what I have learned through a couple of stories. By the time I finish, I will be down to a one word answer.

I once heard a speaker talk about what it takes to build a building. He carefully recounted all of the steps, people and time it took to get from the idea to the building itself.

This speaker reminded us of the people who first imagined the building. Then in succession there was land use planning, permits for building and infrastructure, architectural conceptualizations and drawings, ground breaking and construction, and of course the finishing work -- the painting, the wall coverings, the landscaping, the interior design. Occupants then contribute by making their quarters their home. And then there are the many who work to maintain the building.

The time, people and resources that go into bringing life to the idea of a building (or any project or program) are staggering.

Ever see a building demolished? This speaker pointed out that in a matter of hours -- if not minutes -- all that work, all that time, all those resources -- gone in a cloud of smoke.

The point is that it takes a lot more to build something than to tear it down. Kind of reminds me of what I've heard called the emotional law of gravity. The energy it takes for one negative person to bring down five others is much less than the energy it takes for one person to lift five others. Think about that and think about water and steam. How many of us can say we function at that temperature necessary to bring those around us to a higher level? Similarly, how often do we see steam transformed into water through the efforts of those intent on criticizing and complaining, i.e., tearing down?

I recall a NEHA board meeting a couple of years ago. One of our board members who I just happened to pass by was telling another, "people just have to understand, I'm outspoken -- I speak my mind and if others don't like it, tough!" I thought to myself, this is sad. Confusing pride in one's courage to speak with the content of what was spoken isn't a building exercise at all. It's misguided demolition.

While this issue of the Journal focuses on vector control, it also includes a summary of NEHA's annual executive committee retreat meeting. It was this meeting that prompted me to write this column. And it is this meeting that constitutes the second story that I am eager to share.

We covered (again this year) an agenda of some 40 different and substantive items. We did this in two days. Moreover, each and every executive committee member had ample opportunity to say whatever they desired. In other words, the discussions were considered and thorough. And the policy decisions that the group made were well grounded and supportive of the association's growth for years to come.

When the meeting was over, I dare say that many of these individuals did not need an airplane to get back home. They were already flying. Just like steam.

NEHA has 15 people who serve on this committee. None of these individuals gets paid for their service. Beyond a modest reimbursement for some travel expenses, each of these people give of their own time and money to serve our organization. (Imagine Congress acting this way!)

To be involved, to give on behalf of a cause, to serve others and to make the tough policy decisions that represent what is best for NEHA even when such positions may not play particularly well back home -- well, that takes some special people! It takes people intent on building and constructively and positively working with others. That is the kind of policy leadership this association enjoys. On behalf of myself, our association's staff and each and every one of our members, I salute you, the NEHA executive committee.

What makes these people tick? Why was there so much steam in evidence at this meeting? Many of you already know the answer because you, too, function at this steam level -- or know someone who does. It's all in the "attitude." What do we need to do to support the individual member? How can we make NEHA stronger and more helpful to its individual members? What can I contribute? This was the atmosphere of this meeting and over my ten years here, every single executive committee meeting before this one.

Remember, the difference between water and steam is only one degree. Getting that one last degree really "boils" down to the attitudes we maintain, doesn't it? And in the end, it's attitude that separates the steam from the hot air!
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Title Annotation:Managing Editor's Desk; National Environmetal Health Assn.'s leadership
Author:Fabian, Nelson
Publication:Journal of Environmental Health
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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