You deserve what you tolerate

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Will Roberts
  • 17th Logistics Readiness Squadron
I think it's safe to say that everyone at some point has had a catchy song or phrase bounce around their head for a few days after hearing it on the radio or TV. Sometimes these catch phrases can be quite annoying, especially when you can't drive it out of your memory. For example, who can forget "Don't Worry, Be Happy?"

Other times, having a jingle or phrase stuck in your head can be a positive experience. That's how it was for me when a few assignments ago at base "X", a co-worker introduced me to a phrase that has remained with me since. The quote I'm referring to is also the title of this article: "You deserve what you tolerate." I regret I can't tell you the origin of this quote, however, the origin is not important; what is important is that this quote embodies the Air Force's Core Value of "Excellence in All We Do," and can help guide your professional life. After all, if you hold yourself and those around you to the highest standards, there is no need to tolerate anything less.

In today's world of forced political correctness, many people believe tolerance is a positive attribute. Under many circumstances, few people would object to this perspective. However, as the world's premier Air and Space Force, we simply cannot afford to tolerate substandard actions or behaviors regardless of their perceived superficiality. Our business demands we continually strive for perfection. To that end, we each possess our own set of standards or values that serve to guide our actions and tolerance of others.

I'll offer a few ideas on how to fine-tune your own standards and how to deal with those actions or behaviors you deem substandard. You must first determine and define what you personally deem as acceptable or tolerable.

Most of us had parents or guardians who did their best to provide us with a solid foundation for life. They taught us the difference between right and wrong, moral and immoral, and legal and illegal. If for some reason, you missed these life lessons and find yourself lacking a good moral compass, don't give up. Seek out other sources to establish your own
guide. Look to someone you respect, a friend, co-worker, or supervisor. If the member is well respected by their peers as well as their supervisors, they are probably a good role model to emulate.

Ask them to be your's all right...the Air Force encourages mentorship! The member will probably be thrilled to take you under their wing and share their thoughts and perspectives with you. If you still feel a little off-course, you can always refer to Air Force instructions, DoD instructions, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, or public law. These references are chocked full of guidance and address many of the situations you will encounter on and off the job. Establishing your own moral and ethical guide does not happen overnight, the process takes time. You might even find what you are willing to tolerate change over time.

The next step is the hardest; taking action once an unwanted action or behavior is identified. Most people know what is acceptable and what is unacceptable, but are unwilling to act when confronted with the task of correcting the unacceptable behavior. Some people are concerned about being perceived as the bad guy and some just willingly pass the buck. Some believe it's not their job, while others simply don't like confrontation and avoid it at all costs.

The problem with all these approaches is that the action or behavior never gets addressed and failing to address it, in the end, is the same as condoning it. As an Airman, whether you are the subordinate, co-worker, or supervisor, you do not have the option of looking the other way; it's your duty to take action. This, however, does not have to be a life-altering event for either party.

How you choose to deal with an issue will depend on the situation and the maturity (and probably the rank) of the individual, but in most cases the process can usually be simple and painless for all parties involved. A timely "You need a haircut" is usually more than sufficient to get the desired result from someone who is looking a little shaggy around the ears. You can also use a similar low key approach to address an unkempt uniform. As trivial as these two examples may seem, they illustrate that all standards within your realm must be upheld. And if you address the issue early on, you can prevent it from becoming a bigger problem down the road.

Tolerance is in most cases a positive attribute, but the luxury of tolerance depends on the environment. Remember, our business demands nothing short of perfection and it's all too easy to continually tolerate what we perceive as minor infractions. So where do we draw the line?

General George S. Patton said, "If you can't get them to salute you when they should salute and wear the clothes you tell them to wear, how are you going to get them to die for their country?" As Airmen, we are each duty-bound to continuously improve ourselves and others and must uphold the highest standards. If you willingly turn a blind eye to unacceptable behavior or activity within your organization, you, by default, condone it and ultimately deserve what you tolerate.