Experience plus Reflection provides the learning. –Charles Handy

Greenleaf writes: As one learns to manage his own life he seeks to avoid error; but he accepts the consequences that only error can teach…and then starts afresh…

I have suffered enough from error so that I know how hard this is to do.  It is particularly difficult as one moves toward what he ought to be: sensitive, considerate, responsible, conscientious, venturesome.  To be as one should, and yet be able to clean the slate and start afresh without guilt feelings, takes a special view of the self.  There must be a sustaining feeling of personal significance and worth. 

This feeling of significance and worth comes from the inside (it is not reputation).  I am important to myself.  I am not a piece of dust on the way to becoming another piece of dust.  Each of us is a unique possibility of creation, unlike any that has ever been or ever will be.  No matter how badly we may be shaken, no matter how serious the failure or how ignominious the fall from grace, by accepting and learning we can be restored with greater strength. 

As I read, re-read and reflect upon Greenleaf’s words I begin to recall a number of stories that capture ‘forgiveness, reconciliation, encouragement and affirmation.’ 

The first story concerns James E. Burke.  As a young Project Manager Burke was hired away from a company in order to become the Project Manager of an important project at another company.  As he was managing the project he made several crucial decisions that directly led to the failure of the project.  The day after it was clear that the project had indeed failed he was called to a meeting with the President/CEO.  When Burke entered the President’s office he noticed that the President was looking through a stack of papers.  He looked up and asked: ‘Burke, do you know why I called you here?’  Burke replied ‘Yes, because I made these decisions that directly caused the project to fail and that you called me here to fire me.’  The President looked at Burke and said, ‘That’s what I thought you would say.’  The President continued: ‘Why would I fire you, I just spent $20 million dollars educating you.’  He paused. ‘I will tell you when I will fire you.’  He continued. ‘I will fire you if you ever come close to making those decisions again or anything like them.’  He paused again.  ‘I will also fire you if you stop taking risks.’  He finished with: ‘Now, get out there and do your job.’  25+ years later Burke was the President/CEO and guided the organization through its most challenging time. 

The second story is well-known to most Christians.  Two men betrayed Jesus.  One was Judas and the other was Peter.  Judas betrayed Jesus by taking 30 pieces of silver in return for setting Jesus up.  Peter betrayed Jesus by denying that he knew him – 3 times.  Both men wept bitter tears.  One, Judas, despaired and committed suicide.  The other, Peter, repented was forgiven and in doing so he finally became ‘the Rock.’ 

Gentle Reader, what’s the story that comes to mind for you as you reflect upon Greenleaf’s words?  What is a story others would tell of you? 

My life is the message. –Gandhi

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