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Front and Center

Are you talking to me?

As I continue to discover nuances of unproductive thinking in my own mental patterns, as well as outright infractions, I have begun to notice how easily I rationalize and deflect opportunities by comparing myself to others.

I recently had an experience in a church meeting that gave me a forthright wake-up call.  It has had a profound effect on me, and I hope it will be thought-provoking and helpful for you as well.  It is a lesson in humility — a sign of true Ownership and a key to continuous personal improvement.

For whatever reason, whether in the classroom, or in the seminar, or in the congregation, people like to sit in the back.  There are more places to hide in the back.  There’s less accountability in the back.  There’s less uncomfortable eye-to-eye contact in the back.  The congregation in this meeting was no different…the seats in the back were filled and, with many seats up front still open, some people were even leaning against the back wall.

As the meeting commenced, the person conducting made a general request.  It seemed obvious that his main intent was specifically to the people in the back but his phrasing was more general.  “Could we have you please move forward to the front and fill in the center section?”  I was sitting on the speaker’s left about three rows back from the front.  My immediate response was, “This request does not apply to me; it’s for those in the back.”  Done, finished.  Request in; request deflected.

In the group that day there was a young man, Curtis Kinneard.  Curtis has been described by some people as having “special needs.”  He does not see well and has a few other physical challenges, but he is very bright of mind and can carry on an intelligent conversation with any college professor.  I have learned many things from him, none more important that what he taught me that day.

At the moment of the announcement Curtis was sitting on the second row on the right side.  When he heard the invitation, he immediately got up, and moved to the very center seat in the very front row.

I have to admit, his guilelessness brought tears to my eyes.  I was so moved by his willingness to do as he was asked, to get as absolutely “front and center” as he could, I had to swallow hard to maintain my composure.

As I reflected on his response I pondered why I had not accepted and complied with the same request as openly and earnestly as he had.  Why had I almost reflexively chosen to justify myself by saying that I was already in compliance because I was closer to being “front and center” than a lot of other people in the congregation?  Why do I opt for:

I’m already nearly at the front.

Look around, I’m already closer to the center than most of these folks.

I just sat down here and I’m comfortable where I’m at.

He’s not talking to me…he’s asking those other guys in the back.

What’s the big deal?  I’m here, aren’t I?  Does it really matter where I sit??

How often do we justify ourselves, telling ourselves we’re “close enough.”  We fail to see what difference a little more effort will make.  We tell ourselves that we’re already doing our part to be a team player, and that it’s somebody else’s turn to move, or sacrifice, or do the hard work.

I have come back to that singular moment at church over and over again during the last couple of months.  It has become a metaphor for me, a metaphor that has had applications in my personal life, my spiritual life, and in my work life.  In every area, I find that there is always an opportunity to move just a little more “front and center,” to take true Ownership of where I am and evaluate my responsiveness to those around me.  I have asked myself if I’m really playing all-out, if I’m really doing all that I can, or if I’m just doing more than someone else and calling it “good enough.”

In every organization, we are asked by our team leaders, by our corporate executives, by our boards, to stretch a little more, to innovate, to streamline, to go out of our comfort zones for the good of the whole, to, metaphorically, move up front and center.

In a quiet and significant way, my young friend, Curtis Kinneard, showed me again the very great difference being an Owner makes…not only in my relationships and my organizations, but in the kind of person I am at the very core.

I want to Own the kind of heart Curtis Kinneard does.

I’m interested in your thoughts.

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