A Lesson To Learn and Relearn

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I called someone late yesterday afternoon to ask if I had done something to offend, upset, or make them mad.  I thought long and hard before I made the call.  I had been wondering and worrying about this for over a week.  I navigate my way around a lot of personalities on a daily basis.  I have a 17 member board of directors and six standing committees of 10-20 members.  Each person has their own agenda.  I have learned to be careful not to jump to conclusions.  Minor upsets, trespasses, and personality conflicts have a way of burning themselves out. Ignorance, or the illusion of ignorance, prevents most personal confrontations from even taking place.  Sometimes, though, it is necessary to step into the landmine of personalities.

One of my board members seemed to have gone AWOL.  He had missed a regular board meeting.  He had emailed to let me know that he wouldn’t be able to attend.  I hadn’t been too concerned until he missed a second meeting.  This man, a distinguished older gentleman, had been one of our most engaged board members.  He had advised me through staff changes and organizational growing pains.  He was my Go-To Guy, and suddenly, he was nowhere to be found.  I had hoped to speak to him the previous day at Rotary, but the right moment didn’t present itself.  All evening, the thought nagged at me.  Had I done something wrong?  Even unknowingly, had I offended this man?

When I called him, he didn’t answer.  Should I leave a voice mail?  Should I tell him why I was calling or simply ask him to return my call?  I fumbled around for the right words to say.  “Uh, uh….Jim, hi.  This is Pam.  Could you give me a call?  No hurry.  No big deal.  I’d like to talk to you for a moment at your convenience.”  Ugh.  I’m sure my face was bright red by the time I ended my blabbering message.

My phone rang almost immediately.  I was still flustered and unsure of how to begin the conversation.  Finally, I took a deep breath decided to simply plow ahead and be honest.  “Jim, have I done something to upset or offend you?”  His response made me feel bad, ridiculous, foolish, and guilty for even asking.  He was genuinely shocked by my question.  He reassured me that I had done nothing wrong.  I tried to explain.  I apologized.  I felt ridiculous for asking him if he was mad at me.  What am I a 14-year-old girl?  Usually, I try not to let things like this bother me, but I admire him and appreciate the guidance he has given me.  His absence had greatly concerned me.

He explained the reason.  I was not the cause.  He had an issue with a fellow board member.  It was unrelated to my organization, yet their issues had impacted the functionality of our board.  I felt better after he explained, and hopefully, he felt some relief to have been able to confide to me his angst with this other person.

The conflict between these two individuals isn’t what prompted me to write this post.  The following Bible verse has been running through my mind for the past week, and my phone conversation triggered it once again.  I’m not a church-goer, and I don’t foresee that changing.  I do strongly believe in a higher power.  I couldn’t ignore these words from the Bible that kept recurring in my mind.  I knew there was a meaning to them, a message, or a lesson.

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.  Matthew 25:40

Why have those words been rolling around in my mind?  What lesson am I supposed to be learning right now from these words?  Several days ago, I looked up the exact verse.  I read further to put the words into their proper context.  I read articles, blogs, and interpretations.  While there seems to be a debate about who or what “the least of these” represents, there is no doubt about the deeper meaning to these words.  Kindness matters.  It is through kindness that we come closest to Godliness.

I have recently gotten into the habit of judging myself at the end of each day.  Have I been fair?  Have I been kind, patient, tolerant, loving?  What I have realized is that I judge most of my days not on what I have accomplished, but in the ways in which I have failed.  I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing.  It’s easy to pat ourselves on the back, but often more productive to acknowledge our shortcomings.  Where could I have done more, given more, taken things a step further?  Was I lazy?  Did I put something off until tomorrow?  Were my words less than kind?  How can I be a better person?  “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

It is easy to get a high from successes or public accolades.  It’s easy to feel like a big deal in your career, or in sports, or the successes of our children.  Whatever.  So what?  A successful career, a lovely home, or a busy social life have zero value to me if I am not a good person in my heart.  If I hurt or offend people who have been kind to me or who don’t deserve to be wronged, then public success has no value.  If I am kind and concerned about the feelings of a board member, but treat the guy on the street like he’s a bum, then I have failed.  Far too often, I see arrogance, haughtiness, exclusivity, elitism, and monstrous egos in people who exemplify what most people define as a “success.”  Too often success is an illusion.  People may be generous with their money, or volunteer of their time, yet their hearts have not learned the lesson of kindness.  

A secretary in my building lost her husband suddenly to a heart attack last week.  He was only 52.  I didn’t know this woman well, but along with everyone else, I was saddened by her loss.  I stopped by her boss’ office to ask how she was doing.  “Pretty good, I think.”  I asked him if she had family nearby to help her through this loss.  Did she and her husband have any children?  He looked at me, and said, “I don’t know.  Isn’t that sad?  She’s worked for me for almost a year, and I don’t even know anything at all about her life.  I don’t even know if she has any children.”  Yeah, buddy.  That IS very sad.  Here is a successful man by all accounts, big salary, top of his game career-wise, huge home, lovely wife.  He is successful in the eyes of the world, yet he had never bothered to have an ordinary conversation with the woman who sits right outside his door for eight hours each day.  Kindness and concern are obviously not a part of this guy’s Plan for Success.

Back to the phone call with my board member.  I felt a great sense of relief by reaching out to this man.  I did no damage to myself or to him by expressing my concern about his feelings.  By the end of our conversation, he knew that I valued his input to our organization as well as his opinion of me.   As our conversation drew to a close, I once again apologized for the strangeness of the phone call.  He said, “Pam, your heart is big.  I’m surprised you’re not lopsided when you walk.  It’s been a long time since anyone cared enough to ask me if I was OK.  I appreciate that.”

I was reluctant to even write this post.  It is truly not my intention to brag about a compliment that was paid to me.  This isn’t about ME.  This is about a lesson I relearned again.  If there is an error to be made, err on the side of kindness.  I’m glad that I swallowed my pride and my sense of embarrassment to reach out to this man.  It’s all too easy to get so caught up in our own lives and our tiny inner circle of family and friends.  It’s easy to avoid reaching out beyond that circle of comfort.   Kindness does matter, and I’m glad to have been reminded of that important lesson once again.  

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