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  • Writer's pictureDaniel Shea

13 Seconds - A Lesson in Leadership from General Jim Mattis

General Jim Mattis, USMC (Ret.)

Daniel Shea - October 21st, 2019

For three years now, A Touch of Light has put on a Captive Art show dedicated specifically to Justice-Involved Veterans from across the nation. This year, we really wanted to step things up, and get the involvement & support of veterans from across the nation for their fellow veterans who, despite their circumstance, are working hard to give back & create positive community impact through their artistic practice.

In early September, I came across an article in the Washington Examiner about General Jim Mattis, and how the Marines had given him a second chance as a youth, despite having served jail time. (This was just a week prior to his book tour visit to Seattle, to talk about Call Sign Chaos). I figured it might be a long shot, but I purchased a ticket to the talk, and wrote the General an invitation, hoping against hope that there might be a chance to give it to him, on behalf of all our Veteran artists participating in the show. When the interviewer, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, opened the evening by asking the General about Second Chances, and about the lessons he'd learned while in jail as a youth, I was stunned - the timing was absolutely spot-on.

General Mattis told us about sitting in the jail looking out the window, and his cellmate asking, "What's do you see Jim?"

Jim: "Oh, nothing but a bunch of mud!"

The cellmate: "Well from where I'm sitting, all I can see is the stars..."

General Mattis went on to explain that this experience taught him that the circumstances don’t matter – but how you act in them does. He went on to give a powerful talk on the value of building alliances, developing trust, and doing one's best while putting others first - and through it all, his tremendous focus and passion for high standards and service to the country were at the forefront of every story he told. 

General Mattis & Rajiv Chandrasekaran

It was a packed house, and everyone wanted a moment of the General's time - people with tears in their eyes, thanking him for his service, and for inspiring them to do great things, asking to shake his hand, selfies, autographs, etc. I nearly ran to catch up with him, and managed to reach the General just as he was about to exit, with his security team closing in.

"General, I've got an invitation here from some Veterans who'd be honored if you could make it to our art show."

He turned, took the invitation, and shook my hand. "Well, thank you," he said. And then he was gone. I had been hoping for a minute or two, to explain the show and tell him how much it would mean to all of us if he could attend. But sometimes all you get is 13 seconds. And sometimes that's all it takes.

The next morning at 8am, General Mattis called personally. “This is Jim Mattis - I wanted to thank you for the invitation, and do you the courtesy of letting you know that my schedule is pretty full in November – but you folks are doing good work, and I hope you continue it. If there's an opening for me to attend, I'll certainly let you know.” 

His encouraging demeanor on the call was truly humbling, and as we talked, it was very apparent in the General's tone & words that the message was "Go forward!" It was an absolute privilege to speak with him, and to us, his comments were a profound endorsement of not only the exhibition & our work with Justice-Involved veterans, but a remarkable statement about the power of Second Chances & service to the community, and a powerful story that would resonate not only with Justice-Involved veterans, but with anyone throughout the American justice system who is looking for a second chance, and needs some encouragement. His remarks at the book event, and on the phone with us certainly send a resounding message - 'Get up, go forward, better things await.'

So what exactly did the invitation say?

"We might be a little muddy Sir, but we're looking upward."

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