If there’s one thing that I have taken away from all of my years of honouring Remembrance Day is that this day, above all, captures the essence of “Service” like no other. From Governors General laying wreaths in Ottawa, to drizzly ceremonies at the faded community cenotaph, to the annual school assembly, the message of sacrifice and service to the country was the standard from which all our flags flew.

I remember in the third grade being tasked with the responsibility of memorizing In Flanders Fields – the poem written by Canadian Lt. Col. John McRae, MD at the battle of Ypres in 1915 – to recite at the memorial service. Didn’t make much sense to me then and all I can remember is “foe, ye and flailing” but the solemnity of the occasion and the significance of my oration were not lost on me.

In later years I finally understood the meaning of the poem and that it was written in honour of McRae’s fallen comrade Alexis Helmer. But in the meantime I had come across another poem, one written by Mark Twain, entitled The War Prayer. In it, Twain proposed a radical idea – how about not going to war at all? Nobody had ever talked about this before so I requested, and was granted, permission to read a passage at the November 11th assembly.  The effect was remarkable. There were kudos and high-fives from students and teachers all ‘round. Except for one. The Principal. She marched me off to her office and let it be known, quite clearly, that she thought the message was inappropriate. Not only was I confused by her attitude, I was mortified at being reprimanded for coming up with what I thought was a good idea.

You may be wondering what all of this has to do with Customer Service. Here’s the thing – that one comment came this close to destroying any future initiative I would have ever shown to my school, my teachers or, for that matter, any other superior – be it supervisor, manager, or boss. Moving over to the corporate world, how many front-line employees, embracing the spirit of initiative, have thought about showing up at the staff meeting with a brilliant idea…but stayed silent – for fear of reprimand?

Front-line employees, more often than not, can see where the gaps are and figure out solutions. When an employee takes the initiative, he or she is providing the organization with a service. 99% of the time it’s born out of good intentions. But if the initiative isn’t respected, most employees will just clam up. How many opportunities has your company seized? Building a corporate culture that welcomes creative thinking, encourages wacky ideas, champions the “outside-of-the-box” thinkers, will yield productive results and encourage service to both the customer and the organization.

This Remembrance Day, we pause to honour those who served and sacrificed before us. But let us also honour each other.