Project Spread Cheer @ Work: Unexpected Kickback & a Useful Reminder

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. 

8 thoughts on “Project Spread Cheer @ Work: Unexpected Kickback & a Useful Reminder

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  1. Thanks so much for your last two essays. And for the poem/prayer … a favorite of mine and a much-needed reminder just now as I struggle once again with feeling abandoned by the world. Seek not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand. Has there ever been a better set of instructions for acquiring and maintaining good mental health?

    I was especially touched by your open apology in your last post. How many times have I started a project with great enthusiasm and the best intentions, only to lose momentum almost immediately after starting — a diet, keeping a journal, organizing the photo album. And each time I am surprised to find myself surprised …. and also very sheepish. Wasn’t this the time I was really going to do it? How could I run out of steam so quickly when I had known with certainty that this was it?

    So I can fully appreciate your chagrin when you found it necessary to make a very public course correction. But mostly I’m just grateful that you were willing to openly reveal this most human of foibles, not just in your writing, but also in your process. And it’s that willingness to be open (combined with your awesome writing talent) that keeps me coming back.

    You definitely have your stride back, girl!


  2. When I read the quote I got the same idea as your colleague, and I agree with his reply too. I find that there is massive reward in just going nice stuff when you can for no reward… it’s a real buzz. But that said, we have over the years reaped many good things back at the strangest of moments and sometimes (in the weirdest of circumstances) that I often wonder if it can be counted as coincidence. Yes we have still struggled, had our lows and hard times but I mean that people have come though for us at some critical moments when (and from whom) we least expected and I often think that in a strange way maybe what you give out and get back are interrelated in the much larger scheme of things more than we understand.
    Great post !


    1. It’s amazing that things can be interpreted so differently, isn’t it? Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. I’ve had coincidences like the ones you described, and I don’t really believe they are coincidences. It’s a hopeful thought!


  3. Well, Leslie,
    Catching up on my e-mail, I read the posts out of order. I like both a great deal. I agree with your interpretation and Joyce’s response and that of Kiwidutch very much enhanced this piece on Reciprocity. The poem by Francis seems to indicate that we are always in action, always responding to “the other.” To choose no action or response to another is a choice and thus an action. This seems to be reciprocity. St. Francis asks that God lead him to the best action or response and thus that our actions be informed by God’s action, grace. I am not quite sure what I am attempting to say, so, “the end.” Best, Colleen


  4. I love this post. Even though it took me a few days to get to it. I agree that grace is very important. The prayer also hits home. Thanks for the reminder and keeping it real.


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