Regular readers know that, inspired by Summer Pierre’s Artist in the Office, I’ve been doing an ongoing project at work called “Being a Secret Messenger for Good.” This is my third update, and well, let me say, quite an unanticipated development.
Because I wanted to reach both male and female coworkers with this little project, a male colleague has been helping with the placement of the inspirational quotations (in the men’s bathroom). The method is this: I put a quotation in a brown inter-office envelope and leave it in his mailbox, and he hangs it up. Then he returns the previous quote to me.
But last week, when I opened the brown return envelope, I found the quotation that I asked him to hang up with a Post-it Note stuck on it. He was RETURNING it.
Here’s the quotation:
“There is one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one’s life—reciprocity” (Confucius).
Here’s what the Post-It note said, “I know I’m just the messenger, but I endorse a different rule of practice which runs counter to reciprocity, namely grace: getting what one does not deserve.”
Well, this is interesting, I thought. My colleague’s interpretation of “reciprocity” was completely different from mine. He saw it as something like, “I do this for you and you do this for me,” or “We do things so that those things will come back to us in some way.” And his belief, and indeed, his entire way of being in the world, is to act without the expectation of “reward,” or in fact “return” of any kind. Instead we have the opportunity to choose grace, or, if we are particularly fortunate, to have grace choose us.
My interpretation of “reciprocity” had more to do with “do unto others as you would have them do to you,” and, a reminder that we are always in conversation with the world, we do not just shout out what we want at others and expect that we are entitled to get it.
Even though both interpretations are valid, we didn’t hang up the quote, mostly because I value his opinions and thoughts, and the fact that he took the time to voice them to me was worth more than anything else. Inspirational quotes are pretty thick on the ground; colleagues who will speak their hearts to you are not.
There are many stories I could tell you about my colleague, but I’m concerned about privacy, so let me just say that I could not have finished my dissertation as a sane human being without his quiet support, both practical and emotional. He was the first person I told that I had passed my dissertation defense, despite the fact that he is an engineer and my degree was in English. He was the person I asked to be there at the “hooding” ceremony when they present you with the academic hood portion of the graduation robe that marks you as having a doctorate. I know that there are many, many others besides me who value him, and for myself, I’m grateful to work with someone who makes me not only want to be a better “employee,” but also, and more importantly, a better person.
I hope you all have someone like this in your lives. Maybe you are someone like this. The world needs more of you! And if you are surrounded by someone, or a few someones who are the opposite of this, maybe this story will remind you that grace is always out there, and also, always in there, too.
For all of us, this poem, this prayer about living in grace, by St. Francis of Assisi:
Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.