GREENLEAF’S ‘BEST TEST,’ PART I

We convince by our presence. –Walt Whitman

This morning I was sitting in one of my favorite coffee shops and as I was savoring my coffee while watching the Starbucks ‘Partners’ serve their customers I began to think about Greenleaf’s ‘Best Test.’  So, after a bit I put finger to key and the following emerged.

Greenleaf’s ‘Best Test’ for the Servant-first: The following 1980 iteration is, as far as I am able to discern, Greenleaf’s last iteration of his ‘Best Test.’ Greenleaf reminds us that this is a most difficult test to administer — which might be one reason why so few folks actually engage it. 

Greenleaf writes: Do those served grow as persons; do they while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?  And what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will she or he benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived?

Do those served grow as persons. . .This is truly counter to our culture (i.e. United States).  First, it is rooted in an organic metaphor — growth; it is not rooted in our primary banking metaphor nor it is rooted in our traditional mechanical/industrial metaphor, nor is it rooted in the emerging technological metaphor, nor is it rooted in our war/sports metaphor.  For Greenleaf, human beings are not ‘resources,’ assets, or commodities to be used and used up (the banking metaphor), nor are they ‘cogs’ in the great machine, nor are they impersonal sound-bytes or 140 character tweets, nor are they ‘expendable,’ cannon fodder, blindly loyal (rather than intentionally committed — there is a significant difference between ‘being loyal’ and ‘being committed’) or simply ‘team players’ (where the well-being of the team becomes more important than the well-being of the person — anyone who has burnt themselves out for the team and whose ‘health’ has suffered as a result knows of what I speak).

As a human being, what does it mean to grow?  Consider that one way of understanding our growth is to explore the four dimensions that help define us as human beings.  I call these our P.I.E.S. (S.).  We have a Physical dimension and we are entrusted with our own physical well-being.  Do we get enough rest and sleep?  Do we get the nutrition we need?  Do we engage in the physical exercise that nurtures us?  [There are many questions we can ask re: our physical dimension and you, Gentle Reader, might well have some that are important for you to pay attention to].  We also have an Intellectual dimension.  We are entrusted with an intellect that must be nurtured — developed and sustained and challenged.  As Aristotle noted a few thousand years ago, we become what we think.  What nurtures us intellectually and what depletes us intellectually?  Are we aware?  Do we care? 

Then there is our Emotional dimension.  Our emotional responses are directly connected to our thinking.  What we tell ourselves about a person, or a situation, or an experience triggers certain emotional responses.  I can change what I can control and I can control what I say to myself (or to others) about people, situations or experiences.  Many stressors become healthy [eustress] or unhealthy [distress] simply because of what I say to myself about them.  In our culture we have a fondness for medicating our emotions rather than developing our emotional capacity.

Perhaps the most important dimension is our Spiritual dimension (for some the concept of ‘Spirit’ serves them better — as in ‘How is your spirit today?’).  For some, Spiritual is intimately connected to their faith-tradition and faith-life.  For others, Spirit is ‘entheos’ [Greenleaf’s term] — the spirit that animates us and sustains us.  My experience is that folks know when their spirit is being depleted or when their spiritual life has been lost in the wasteland (which is quite different from being lost in the wilderness).  What nurtures and sustains our spiritual dimension?  What depletes and harms our spiritual dimension?

You will notice, Gentle Reader, a second ‘S,’ the one inside of the parenthesis.  A number of years ago a high school student suggested that there is a second ‘S’ and she named it as the Social Dimension.  Since, she said, that we are relational beings then we must nurture our ‘Social Side’ as well.  The harm that bullying does suggest that she might well be right.  So, how do you nurture this dimension, the Social Dimension, and how do you deplete it? 

Next time we will continue with Greenleaf’s ‘Best Test’ — for now we, I certainly, have more than enough to reflect upon.    

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