Years ago, I was in a high-level business course in California. At a particular point in the course, we were studying a book entitled The Tree of Knowledge, by Humberto R. Maturana and Francisco Varela. This book was hyper-complex, dealing with concepts such as “ontogenic structural-pair coupling” and other confusing distinctions. Since I didn’t understand what the book was presenting, I decided to put into practice what I didn’t comprehend. Soon I became one of the class experts on the book.
In a study session at one of the conferences, I shared for a good fifteen of the thirty minutes of the session about my discoveries from the book. Many of the people sitting in that session, some twice and three times my young age of 25, were amazed at what I had discovered through the book. I was feeling pretty good about myself after that moment. Then my coach, who had been sitting behind me during the session, met me at the snack table.
“Wow,” she said, “You sure had a lot to say during that session.” “Yeah,” I answered back, still feeling pretty euphoric at my shared insights. “And every one in the group got a lot out of your knowledge of the book,” she mused, reeling me in. “Yeah, you’re right,” I considered, not realizing the sharp left turn the conversation was soon to take. “Just one question,” she said with Columbo-like precision, “What did you get out of the conversation?”
“Excuse me?” I said, not ready for the inquiry. “Well, you took over half the time helping others. I’m just curious what you got out of listening to their advice and their knowledge of the book,” she said, graciously digging the knife into my obliviousness. That moment has stuck with me for nearly twenty years. As a Spirit Listener, we need to give the Spirit moments of activation based on the dialog of others. When we are the central focus of the conversation, it is difficult for the Spirit to speak to us.
More often that not, we, like that moment I had in the study session, speak out of pride or insecurity. We like to be recognized for our insights, our personality, or our past exploits. We have to learn to put that aside, for the reward is far greater when we speak less and listen more.
I often tell others there are two ways to be recognized as the most powerful person in a room. The first way is to speak in such a commanding and lofty manner that everyone in the room bows to your intellect and alpha-like personality. The other way is to encourage, inspire, and challenge every one in the room in such a manner that they leave the room more powerful than they were when they entered.
While the first way may be more self-gratifying and ego stroking, it is also limiting and fleeting. As soon as you are brought down by someone more powerful than you, you are left reeling in your damaged pride. The Bible says:
“When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.”
Luke 14:8-10 NIV
Building others up is not immediately as self-gratifying. In fact, many times the people in the room rarely give you credit. In time, the reward is so much greater when you inspire others. You have the opportunity to sit back and watch those you inspire grow in wisdom and strength and know that you, through the Spirit of God, were part of making it happen.
I have often had someone share with me a powerful statement or thought that “someone” had told them in the past, often stating these words changed his or her life. Unbeknownst to them, and I certainly don’t speak up, I was the one who had originally given them that thought. When we are on Mission, we don’t care about taking credit. It wasn’t really my insight in the first place. It was the Spirit’s, acting on Mission.
- Reading Scripture Together for the Sake of God’s Mission (dei-liberations.com)
- Leaders are Readers: The 118 Books that Helped Me Grow in 2013 (joshualeehenry.com)