Stories Talk | Presentation Skills and Effective Storytelling
Τhe RI State Senator & President of the World Hellenic Inter-Parliamentary Association is a man who has never been afraid to stand up for what's right and he feels fortunate to come to Greece several times a year, to visit friends and family and to meet with government and business leaders.
By Mia Kollia
Translated by Alexandros Theodoropoulos
- What does America mean to you and what myths about it should be dispelled?
When I think about America, I think about my father and what it meant to him. America’s always been talked about as a land of opportunity and it certainly was that for my father. To leave Andros, Greece, the only home he had ever known for an uncertain future in America was an incredible act of faith. He believed in the promise of this country that gives newcomers a fair shake, a chance to succeed and build a new life.
His arrival in the United States was unexpected, because he was working on the “Nea Ellas” Greek line passenger ship, which was sailing between Lisbon, Portugal and New York. When Italy invaded Greece on October 28, 1940 “Nea Ellas” arrived in New York harbor the following week and most of the crew members disembarked due to the requisition by the British government. He was allowed to stay in the United States and then served in the US army from 1942 to 1945.
But it’s important to remember none of it is easy. Making a new start, coming to a new land is no small effort and I think that anyone can get lost in the mythology of the American Dream. There’s a great deal of work involved, as there was for my father in creating a business and putting so much of his time and energy into it. And being a citizen is not an easy task, either. It requires engagement, being part of the community and being informed.
- What were the harshest difficulties you encountered in your long career and how did you deal with them?
When you run for public office, you want to accomplish things for your constituents and get things done for them. But in our government, you can encounter people who don’t share those values and who see it more about acquiring and exercising power. I made a decision early on in my career that I wasn’t going to sacrifice my principles or the interests of the people I served, I wasn’t going to curry favor with political leaders just to get my bills passed. I made a conscious decision to be an independent voice, to challenge party leaders when I thought they were promoting policies that were not good for my community or our state. And over the years, I think my constituents have come to appreciate the value in that, to know that I will fight for them while also speaking truth to power.
- Which, in a nutshell, are the biggest ideological differences between the ruling parties in the US?
I think, unfortunately, we are at a point where one party, the Democratic Party, is committed to democracy, while the Republican Party has become more about clinging to power through any means necessary. We may be a few months away from finding out that some Republican members of Congress actively aided and abetted the January 6 insurrection, an effort to overthrow a legitimate election.
- What are your goals around tightening US-Greek relations and how do you try to achieve results in different areas?
At a time when the Biden administration has been focused on dealing with the continuing COVID pandemic and promoting an economic recovery in our country, it’s important to make sure the relationship with Greece, the security status of the Eastern Mediterranean and the strength of the NATO alliance continue to remain points of focus. There are authoritarian leaders in Russia and Turkey who are actively working to sow divisions and create chaos that they can exploit for their own benefit. We need to be aggressive about challenging that and making sure we are keeping US officials informed of what is happening, how Greece sees the evolving situation and how the Greek government can work with the United States to promote democracy and remain united in the face of these challenges.
- What is Greece for you, what you love about it, how often do you visit and what do you miss?
As someone who lives in New England, where we’ve already had our first snow, I can say Greece is always a place of sun and warmth and comfort for me. It is also a place of unbelievably rich history. In America, in New England, history goes back three or four hundred years. The scale of history in Greece is entirely different and is awe-inspiring and just puts you in a different place in terms of the connections you feel and the quality of life there.
I am fortunate to come to Greece several times a year, to visit friends and family and to meet with government and business leaders. It means so much to have that opportunity, to be able to be in the place that is the birthplace of democracy and feel that it recharges your batteries every time you go there.
- What success tips would you share with younger people regardless of the line of work?
One thing I would suggest is to cultivate the art of being a good listener. It allows you to make a real connection with people, to understand what is going on around you and to identify new trends and have a sense of how to respond to them.
Throughout most of my career in public service, I owned a restaurant and was interacting with people in my community every day. It kept me grounded because I was constantly hearing from people about what they were seeing, about issues of concern to them. Being willing to listen to people helps to build relationships and it makes you a more responsive colleague, a more effective part of your organisation, a better source of guidance for clients and even a better neighbor.
Leonidas Raptakis is RI State Senator & President of the World Hellenic Inter-Parliamentary Association (EHIA)