A Valuable Lesson in Humility

I am sitting in a mandatory, 2-hour informational meeting related to my decision to volunteer in an activity for one of my sons.  It is the fourth time I’ve been required to attend the session during the past six years.  I won’t go into details about the content, but you’ll just have to trust me when I say that it is largely void of new and compelling information, and the information that is worthwhile could be covered in about thirty minutes.  But it is strictly mandatory, and right now, it’s taking me away from my family for three hours (including driving time) on a Monday night.

My emotions as I sit here – and this isn’t pretty – are a mixture of anger, frustration and indignation.  I’m angry at the people who decide to put us through this exercise every year.  I’m frustrated that the hundreds of other people in the room haven’t started a rebellion against this wasteful ritual.  And I’m indignant in general that people act more like “sheeple” and are too accepting of mediocrity in the world.  Remember, I’m not proud of these feelings, but it’s an honest description of how I was feeling when I arrived here a while ago, and the feelings I’m still trying to fight off as I write this.

But as I sit here, I am beginning to realize – with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, no doubt – that this is a moment for growing in humility.  What does that mean?

Well, it doesn’t mean that I’m going to pretend that this event is better than it is, or that mediocrity is a good thing.  Being humble isn’t about being dishonest with yourself.  But it does mean that I need to recognize that I am not the center of the universe, and that it’s okay if I have to patiently participate in something that doesn’t meet my Fortune 500 standards for compelling multi-media presentations.

While it may be true that the people running this meeting deserve some admonition from their superiors for not having higher standards, it may also be true that they are doing the best they can with limited resources and guidance.  Heck, for all I know they’re stretching themselves beyond their normal standards already, and what I’m watching is a shining moment in their work lives.

The truth is my primary concern should not be the quality of this program, but rather the quality of my response to it.  If I were trying my very best to live my life at this very moment (is there any other moment?) according to the teaching and truth of Jesus, what could I do?

First, I could restrain myself from complaining about the meeting to others around me, which isn’t easy for me.  Instead, I could offer up my frustration as a prayer offering, uniting this miniscule piece of inconvenience with the very real suffering of people around the world.  I could even pray for the people who are putting on the event, who have their own frustrations and inconveniences in life.  Maybe I could find a way to pitch in to make better the next time they have one of these events, or at the very least, volunteer to help things run smoothly tonight by putting away chairs or picking up trash afterward.

If I choose to do these things, then this night might very well turn out to be a blessing for me, a lesson in humility, patience and love.  I may find myself thanking these people one day for helping me better live my faith.  But I’ll be honest again – changing my attitude won’t be easy.  It will be easier to complain to the guy sitting next to me who seems as frustrated as I am, and go home grumbling.

Well, I better wrap this up now.  The meeting is finally coming to an end, and I’ve got some chairs to put away.

p.s. Something amazing and wonderful just happened as I was putting chairs away.  Someone criticized me for the way I was folding the chairs and putting them on the cart!  In a movie, he would have come up to me and embraced me, saying “thank you, brother, for humbling yourself to volunteer your valuable time to help us…”  In real life, we are often overlooked, or even criticized, for doing what is right.  As tempting as it would have been to say “hey dude, you’re lucky I’m helping at all…”, I simply listened to his feedback and then started doing it correctly, the best I could.  What a wonderful exclamation point to my lesson in humility.

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About the Author

Patrick Lencioni is the author of nine best-selling business books including The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, which has been a fixture on the Wall Street Journal best-seller list for more than eight years. Fortune magazine recently named Pat one of “ten new gurus you should know”, and The Wall Street Journal described him as one of the most in-demand speakers in America. In addition to his work as a speaker and consultant with his firm, The Table Group, Pat is married, has four sons and lives in Northern California. Pat is a lifelong Catholic who is passionate about his faith. He is a co-founder of Strong Men/Strong Faith (www.strongmenstrongfaith.com), a movement designed for busy men who are interested in deepening their Catholic faith.

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3 Comments

  1. You made me laugh out loud. I can almost see your face at the moment you were told you weren’t “doing it right”.

    I do my best to practice servant leadership, though my preference is to be in the leadership role managing and directing the other servants.

    Last weekend I volunteered to facilitate Bingo at a local nursing home. I get as much, if not more, out of the experience than the women we serve there. I give my very best effort to treat the ladies as if they were royalty. I must have been doing an exceptional job serving the cookies and coffee that morning, because one of the ladies who came to play Bingo asked me if I was a waitress. I was speechless, and my executive ego was relegated to the soles of my feet.

    God blesses us all with opportunties to be both Mary and Martha. Let’s all pray to be thankful for all Martha experiences.

    Thank you so much, Mr. Lencioni.

  2. I loved reading this- I can SOOOOOOOO relate!
    And I loved the surprise first ending:

    “Well, I better wrap this up now. The meeting is finally coming to an end, and I’ve got some chairs to put away”

    It made me laugh to imagine you sitting there stewing about this and then finally putting the time to good use and writing this article. :) Great insights- thanks for writing this- :)

    Theresa

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