What started as something so trivial…
I think the best way to start this series is an explanation of why this site and this Foundation exists. In doing so, I am going to try to avoid a lot of the nitty-gritty details. After all, if you are interested, you are free to peruse the multitude of documents posted throughout this site. Suffice it to say, I was wronged and I watched a lot of my friends and colleagues befall the same fate. At first, my efforts were focused on personal recompense: get my career back, my reputation, hold perpetrators accountable. I, through much trial and tribulation, however, soon found out that these were not the kinds of motivators that would sustain me over the long run.
In Angela Duckworth’s “Grit”, there are two elements that she ascribes make up the magical formula: passion and persistence. However, buried in the book is an important third element: a goal that a “gritty” person has must be altruistic in nature. I have learned a lot about grit these past few years and can personally attest to the last element being just as important as the first two. My initial aims following my reprisal were not altruistic and the pace I was on was not sustainable. However, as the months progressed, my focus began to shift and my aperture widen.
I am willing to wager that you at least once in your childhood sat in a math class and thought to yourself “I don’t understand this, but I am clearly the only one not getting it, so I’m just going to shut up.” I will also bet you that every time that happened, at least a quarter of the rest of the class was thinking the same thing. I don’t think our mindset is incredibly different as an adult as it pertains to raising your hand and proverbially “speaking up in class.” Of the many things I (re)learned these last years, one of them is this: if you are experiencing something in a certain environment, whether it be abuse, or discrimination, or hostility, there is a very good chance that others feel the same way. The corollary is also true: if you feel you can’t speak out about that, chances are some or many of your contemporaries also feel the same way. This was the phenomenon I came across in the DIA case. My friend gave me this great metaphorical anecdote: “it’s like you’re in a dark room getting punched and suddenly someone turns on the lights and you see there are a lot of people getting punched.” No truer was this than the DAS affair!
If we continue with the dark room analogy, I, like many others, just kept getting punched and trying (in vain) to punch back. It wasn’t until months into the process that I flicked the light switch. (This happened the day I emailed 170 members of DIA and said essentially: “Hi, my name is Ryan Sweazey. You don’t know me, but I was victimized by the Agency and I am guessing there are more like me amongst you. If you are, let me know.”) I received 31 responses from that one email. There were definitely more people in that dark room being punched. Once armed with that knowledge, my aim shifted and with it was an untapped and virtually limitless source of energy and motivation: not just helping myself, but also, and what fueled my “grit”: helping others like me.
And that, in a very broad-brush sense, was the impetus for starting the Walk the Talk Foundation: this supposition that “if I have a problem, there are surely others who are experiencing it as well.” That went from a null hypothesis to established fact in a very short time for us. With just four cases under our belt and after only having been founded five short months ago, the response from our clientele and audience has consistently echoed one theme: “we are no longer alone in this – thank you!” and that is an incredibly motivating and powerful sentiment, isn’t it!?