See Something? Say Something!

In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Federal Government saw fit to create the Department Of Homeland Security. From the very beginning, DHS understood that the task before them (preventing another attack) was nearly impossible in a nation of more than 300 million free people.

So, in an effort to “crowd-source” a solution to the problem, they came up with a slogan:

See Something? Say Something!

The idea was pretty simple if you saw something that could possibly be interpreted as threatening, e.g. an unattended backpack sitting under a bench at the train station, then (in a manner counter to typical American indifference) you should alert some authority figure so that they can check it out.

Overall this is a fine idea since (as the saying goes) none of us is as smart as all of us. However, as much as this might actually help foil another attack, the need for such a slogan speaks to a larger issue we have as a society.

In general, most Americans don’t speak up when they have something to say, especially something positive or helpful.

I had an experience the other day they flew in the face of this trend it had a surprising effect on me.

The town of Penfield NY, is a suburb of Rochester, NY, with a population of about 40,000. I grew up here and after ten or so years away, I returned to start a family.

From the inception of the school district in 1948, the mascot for all things Penfield was, The Chief. We were the Penfield Chiefs, and we liked it.

In 2002, The Chief ran afoul of political correctness and after not much of a process at all, the Penfield Chiefs became the Penfield Patriots. Of course applying the same logic, Patriots could be just as (if not more) offensive than Chiefs, but political correctness knows no logic.

Despite the change, those of us that were proud to be chiefs continue to celebrate our heritage, and at a golf tournament a few years ago I had the opportunity to purchase a Penfield Chiefs t-shirt.


My reproduction “Chiefs” shirt.

This past Saturday morning I woke early to spend a long day working on a construction project in our house. From my pile of “clothes-I-don’t-mind-getting-dirty,” I chose a pair of shorts and my red and white Penfield Chiefs t-shirt.

As all proper projects should begin, my day started out with a trip to Starbucks (for fuel) followed by Home Depot (for materials). As I received my venti bold from my friendly (but very young) barista, he looked at my shirt and exclaimed, “Is that an original Chiefs shirt?” I explained that the shirt was fairly new, but that I was in fact an original Chief. He took another good look and said, “Man, I gotta get me one of those.”

Coffee in hand I made the less than one-mile drive down the hill to The Home Depot. I was buying quite a lot of materials:

  • 16 Sheets ¾” Oak Plywood
  • 6 Sheets ¼” Birch Plywood
  • 6 2x4s
  • A collection of other random stuff

The three-quarter inch plywood alone weighs nearly 1,000 pounds, so stacking, moving and loading this was no small task. I am, however not a real ask-for-help kind of guy, so I just pulled on my gloves and got to work.

I had moved two of the sixteen sheets when a friendly Home Depot guy asked if I needed any help. Since the two sheets had taken me a few minutes each to wrangle off the shelf and onto the cart, I gladly accepted his help.

As I stood in line with all the contractors waiting to check out, a random guy walked right up to me, pointed to my shirt and proceeded to tell me about how heartbroken he was about the whole Chief/Patriot thing. He went on for a good five minutes. When he’d said what he had to say, he moved on. We did not exchange names or graduation years, just a few stories and some good feelings.

Moving from the checkout line into the parking lot, no fewer that four people asked if I wanted any help with my load. Since the hard work was done, I politely declined. The Home Depot carts  line up almost perfectly with the bed of our Suburban, so the last loading step is actually pretty easy.


More than 1,000 pounds of lumber loaded and ready to go.

As I was finishing up, the Home Depot guy who walks around the parking lot gathering wayward carts came by and asked if I was done with the two I was using. I said that I was, and as he was walking away with them he said, “Hold onto that shirt man, that is the real deal.”

Clearly the Chiefs shirt elicits a strong response, at least in and around the town of Penfield, but think about this:

How many nice conversations could anyone have with anyone else just by speaking up?

Apart from the shirt, I guess this was the first time I had ever purchased more materials than it looked like I could reasonably handle alone. Because of this, the kindness of strangers appeared in abundance.

But, what if we all made a point of offering help to strangers, long before the need was obvious?

From the time I pulled on the shirt until the time I returned home, maybe two hours had elapsed, but it felt like a week’s worth of positive human interaction and it was both energizing and fulfilling.

If the Department Of Homeland Security wants us to say something if we see something, we should obey, but not just on the subject of suspicious duffel bags.

As you walk through your day today and tomorrow and the next day let your positive thoughts become positive words. Complement someone’s clothes or glasses or haircut if your thoughts direct you to. Ask lots of people who appear to be managing just fine if they could use any help. Just the fact that you asked will brighten their day.

We all have thresholds that determine when we shift from just thoughts to words. Take a little time and try to lower those thresholds, even just a little.

So, starting now, if you see something – say something. Both you and the person to whom you say it, will be glad you did.


Copyright © 2016 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved.

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One thought on “See Something? Say Something!

  • I have never worn my Penfield Chief sweatshirt and not received at least one comment….and I live three hours away. Last time was a gentleman Chief from 1972 that I thoroughly enjoyed meeting. I would never have had that lovely conversation without knowing a fellow Chief was standing next to me. We’re a dying breed too.
    A school in a town that I don’t even know was dealing with the same campaign. With sadness for never having the opportunity to fight for our Chief, I fully supported them by speaking out on their behalf.
    You are 100% right ~ sometimes complimenting someone, or simply taking notice of them makes an enormous and positive impact. Thank you for improving our world, one little piece of excellent advice at a time.

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