Sometime between World War II and The Korean War, private first class Leonard NMI Turkel was returning a truck to the Pensacola Air Force base when he misunderestimated a blind curve and swerved off the road. Although the private was adept at driving trucks from his days delivering laundry in the Bronx, he wasn’t used to unforgiving culverts and buried the big truck’s front wheel three feet into the muddy ditch that ran alongside the road.
PFC Turkel tried everything he could think of to free the stuck vehicle from the Georgia clay. But even with the truck’s four-wheel drive and prodigious torque he could not pull it out of the trench. Stuck in the middle of nowhere with no way to call for help he hoisted himself up onto the truck’s badly listing fender and waited for his eventual rescue.
Before too long PFC Turkel saw two headlights coming towards him through the encroaching gloom. Too close together to be a car and approaching too slowly to be a couple of motorcycles, he finally realized it was a farmer lumbering up the road on a big tractor. PFC Turkel hopped down off the fender and waved his cap in the humid dusk to flag down his potential rescuer.
The big John Deere tractor shuddered to a stop and its driver looked down at the hapless private.
“Well, well. What do we have here?” the farmer drawled slowly.
“The truck’s stuck.” My father answered. “I was hoping you could help me yank it out of the ditch.”
The farmer didn’t answer, he just rubbed his chin, stepped off the tractor and slowly ambled around the olive green Air Force transporter while he assessed the situation. Finally he stopped in front of my dad and looked him up and down.
“Son,” the farmer drawled at the tall, skinny kid in front of him. “You’re either stupid or a Yankee.” It came out as “Stooopid.”
“I believe I’m both, sir” my dad replied.
The farmer laughed and wordlessly returned to his tractor. But instead of hopping back up and chugging away, he wrapped one end of a heavy rope around the John Deere’s front hitch and then tossed the other end to my dad to tie to the truck. Next he straddled the tractor’s saddle, threw the transmission into reverse, and deftly yanked the truck back onto the road.
I think my dad told me this story simply because it was an amusing memory from his younger days. But to me it always held a more significant meaning – thoughtful intentionality.
I return to my dad’s tale again and again when I’m in a situation where emotion is threatening to get the best of me and I’m tempted to respond in an elevated manner that might be momentarily satisfying but will ultimately detract from what I’m trying to accomplish.
You see, my dad was neither stupid nor a Yankee. To a kid who grew up in the Bronx, a Yankee wasn’t an interloper from up north but a superstar who played on his beloved hometown baseball team.
“I believe I’m both, sir” was my dad’s innocuous response to the farmer’s insult that diffused the situation and focused my father’s intentionality and ultimately got him what he wanted — the truck out of the ditch. My dad didn’t respond to the insult in-kind, he didn’t refer to his beloved Yankees (the baseball team, not the Northern slur) and he didn’t elevate the challenge.
“I believe I’m both, sir”, most likely said with his big beautiful smile, was my dad’s solution to an uncomfortable problem and a wonderful lesson that is always with me even though my father no longer is. The intentionality of “I believe I’m both, sir” has served me well in business and in my personal life and contributes mightily to my personal brand. I hope it can do the same for you.