We warmly welcome John Lanier, Executive Director of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation, as he discusses in this guest editorial the power of choice, consideration for the choices we make, and how our decisions affect those around us.
— Pete Krull
Recently, I’ve been thinking about choice.
We have more choices than we realize. First, there are the obvious ones we are capable of making:
- What should I wear for the day?
- What strikes my fancy on the menu this evening?
- Do I swipe left or right?
Those are all the “what” choices of our lives. They are conscious decisions that have observable results and consequences. However, what we decide to do is not the only thing that matters. The “how” is equally important, if not more so.
How do you comfort someone who has just lost a loved one? How patient are you with your children when they ask the same question for the fortieth time? How sincere are you when you congratulate the person who received the promotion you wanted?
Frequently, these choices don’t feel like we have control over them. Too often, we simply call them “emotional reactions” and take them as a given. I think we sell ourselves short when we dismiss these choices so easily. We can choose to be kind, generous, brave, resilient and moral. Those decisions are hard or easy depending on our circumstances and our personality, but they are still our choices.
Every day, I make a choice about how to do my job, a job that I love dearly and for which I am so grateful. I am the executive director of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation, a private family foundation that is committed to advancing the legacy of our namesake. Ray was the founder of Interface, Inc., the world’s largest carpet tile manufacturer, and he was committed to making his business as environmentally sustainable as possible until his passing in 2011. He was my grandfather, and I hope to honor him by supporting environmental initiatives with grants from the estate he left to this Foundation.
Simply put, I have the responsibility to give large sums of money to certain organizations, as well as the responsibility to decline grant requests from other organizations that don’t align with our priorities.
I’m very aware that a lot is at stake. Our grants fund important work and employ passionate, committed individuals. The grants we don’t make might very well mean that other important work can’t be pursued by equally passionate, committed individuals.
Who am I to be worthy of making those decisions? I didn’t earn the dollars that we give away. They came from my grandfather’s hard work and dedication. How could I possibly earn the right to be a philanthropist in this way?
The short answer is that I can’t earn it. Rather, this work of carrying on my grandfather’s legacy is a gift, and how I receive that gift is reflected in how I do my job and the choices I make.
I strive to be humble. I never stop learning about the environmental challenges and opportunities that our societies face. I embrace a spirit of gratitude, because our Foundation doesn’t do the work of enriching our natural systems. Rather, our partners do that work, and they do it so very well.
I am not entitled to do this work. This work has been entrusted to me. I accept it willingly, but with the understanding that I have an immense responsibility to be a good steward of that which is not mine. I hope that how I do this work makes my family and my grandfather proud.
John Anderson Lanier is the Executive Director of The Ray C. Anderson Foundation.
Lanier’s passion for environmental stewardship was sparked by Ray’s example and story, and he never tires of sharing this story with others. Lanier currently serves as Vice Chair of the Board of Directors for Southface, the southeast’s nonprofit leader in the promotion of sustainable homes, workplaces and communities through education, research, advocacy and technical assistance. He also serves on the Board of Directors for Project Drawdown and Chattahoochee NOW. Finally, he serves on the Committee for Service and Spirituality for the Marist School Alumni Association in Atlanta. Learn more about the Ray C. Anderson Foundation here.
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