Many years ago I was presented copies of Greenleaf’s papers, the ones found in the Greenleaf Archives. This morning I am going to offer you, gentle reader, part of a note Greenleaf wrote; it is undated but from the content it appears to have been written while he was still employed at AT&T. Greenleaf writes:
A few years ago an acquaintance, from middle management of another business that I know intimately, came to my office in an obviously disturbed frame of mind. He was puffing violently on his cigarette as he started an outpouring of pent-up feelings which began with, ‘I am leading a life of quiet desperation,’ and went on for an uninterrupted hour of bitter complaint about his situation in his company: unappreciated, unrecognized, little freedom to manage, the victim of other people’s mistakes. You are no doubt familiar with his story.
As I listened I recalled what I knew of his situation and I was sure that if I could get the honest views of this man’s subordinates, they would say the same for their lot. So when he finally finished his sad story, I said to him as gently as I could, ‘Did it ever occur to you that if you were to make a greater effort to create for your own subordinates a climate so that they would experience less frustration than you do, you might feel better about your own lot?
Remember that great line from the prayer of St. Francis, “for it is in giving that we receive.”
The choice any of us can make, no matter how intolerable our own lot, is to use what little freedom and resources we possess to make lives of those around us more significant and more rewarding. The choice to make life more tolerable for others, in all of our relationships, is open to all of us. Too often, by reacting to the treatment that we receive, rather than choosing how we will act when the initiative is ours, we compound someone else’s error rather than creating our own good.
Why is it that human beings have such difficulty being human in terms of taking the initiative to make life more tolerable for others in all relationships?