Thank you for your service

Trader Joe's, caramel macchiato, gratitude, and 7 other things worth your time

There’s a proposal right now in Congress to give up a $25,000 bonus to “essential workers” like doctors, nurses, grocery store clerks, truck drivers, and janitors.

This is a lot of money all together, but then again, we’re spending trillions already, so I’ll be curious to see if any real opposition arises.

It’s being dubbed a “Heroes’ Fund,” and I think there’s something very interesting about that word (“heroes,” not “fund”).

Let me try to explain by example. We’ll start with Karleigh Frisbie Brogan, who works at a Trader Joe’s in Portland, Oregon, and who wrote an article for The Atlantic recently:

Working in a grocery store has earned me and my co-workers a temporary status. After years of being overlooked …I’m grateful to be acknowledged ...

But I have a problem with all this hero talk.

Next, meet K.P. Mendoza, a nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, who is among those protesting and suing the government over a lack of personal protective equipment.

Here’s Mendoza’s quote to Business Insider:

“You would not think about telling a soldier … ‘Maybe you don't need that bulletproof vest, maybe you don't need this helmet.’

That's why I say, don't call me a hero. Instead, show your support by believing us when we say we need much more PPE.”

One thing I’ve learned is that a lot of real heroes really don’t like being called heroes. Either they don’t feel worthy, or they suspect the people who call them that are doing it to make themselves feel better for not doing more.

I’m drawing on an experience I had years ago, when I was a reservist on active duty in the Army JAG Corps, working in an office building just outside Washington, D.C.

This was not arduous duty—heck, there was a Starbucks in the lobby. A buddy and I used to joke that we were stationed at “Forward Operating Base Caramel Macchiato.”

It was the military though, and we had to wear woodland camouflage uniforms every day (in an an office building, go figure). As a result we had more than a few fawning and embarrassing reactions from people we’d meet outside:

  • “Thank you for your service!”

  • “We support what you're doing in the Middle East!”

  • “You guys are heroes!”

Now, I wasn’t sure I agreed with what “we” were doing in the Middle East. But most of all, I felt inauthentic, because knew I wasn’t a hero.

I came to terms with it eventually by considering that the grateful folks were really thanking the uniform and what it represented to them—not me personally. Later, when I had the chance to spend time with “real” soldiers in combat, I’d share a version of the story. I liked the idea of being a conduit of gratitude.

So that’s what this is all about: heroism, gratitude, and symbolism.

If any of you reading this today are doctors, nurses, health workers, grocery store workers, truck drivers—really anyone working right now to keep the country going, often at risk—thanks for being a hero.

If you’re not comfortable with the word, I get it. Please take it as intended, and just pass it along.

And know that thanking you, actually helps the rest of us.

7 other things worth your time

  • Iowa calls out National Guard to protect meat workers. (Yahoo Finance)

  • Authorities have identified seven people who contracted Covid-19 in Wisconsin because of voting. (Associated Press)

  • Tom Brady’s favorite receiver, tight end Rob Gronkowski, is coming out of retirement to play with him in the NFL (assuming there’s a season). I mention this because of a study I wrote about last year — and that a reader reminded me of, actually — that suggests the number-1 thing top employees want at work is to have coworkers they consider good friends. This seems like a heck of an example. (The Ringer)

  • Totally unclear now what happened to North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, but President Trump took part of his press conference Tuesday to wish him well. (Fox News)

  • There are more than 16,000 grounded, perfectly good passenger airliners right now. Big problem: where to physically store all those jets, and keep them maintained well enough to fly again someday. (Bloomberg)

  • Here’s a nice list of the big public companies that managed to get all the small business payroll loans. (CNBC)

  • You know who’s doing really well now? Netflix, which added 16 million new subscribers in the first quarter of 2020. (Associated Press)

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