tMichaelB is the web site for Tom Bengtson, who writes about business, religion, family and politics.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Go out and improve your world!

You probably have received the same email I have about the carrot, egg and coffee. It is a little inspirational message about the way three different things respond to a harsh environment; the responses tell us something about how we might react to difficulties in our lives. Here’s how the story goes:

A woman sets three pots of water boiling on a stove. She puts a carrot in one pot, an egg in the other, and coffee grounds in the third. She lets each boil for 20 minutes. Then she turns off the heat and assesses each. The carrot has become completely mushy and the egg has hardened. The coffee grounds haven’t changed much, but the hot water has become delicious coffee.

How does this apply to life? Well, when surrounded by a harsh environment – say a difficult situation at work, or bickering at home, or big-time pressure at school – do you react like the carrot, the egg or the coffee? Do you let the situation overwhelm you so that you turn to mush, like the carrot? Or does the situation harden your interior, as it does the egg? Or are you like the coffee, which transforms the environment instead of letting the environment transform it?

Yeah, I want to be like the coffee.

As I thought about it, this little story is just another way to say what Paul Bremer was saying in my March 14 post. If you go back and read that, you see that his second tip for successful management includes an explanation that says: “Your example should show people how to master events and not let events master them.” We’ve all seen managers who become completely frazzled by unexpected events, customer pressure, financial stresses or other difficult circumstances. This is never impressive. What is impressive is to see someone go into a difficult situation and transform it with their hard work, sincerity, diligence, competence and perhaps innovation. I’ve seen that far fewer times, but when I have, it has been impressive. According to Bremer, this is what good leaders should do all the time.

Christ, of course, sets the most impressive example. Remember when John baptizes Jesus in the Jordan? Students of the Bible love to discuss the question of why Jesus was baptized. Certainly, He didn’t need baptism the same way everyone else does. Maybe the answer is something like the coffee. Jesus wasn’t transformed by the water the way most of the people being baptized were; the water was transformed by Jesus. By entering into the river, Jesus made the Jordan living water, from which God’s grace would forever flow through this sacrament of initiation.

Prior to getting that email, and prior to hearing Bremer speak, I never thought about the baptism of our Lord as setting an example that could be valuable to me in the workplace. But now I see that it is a powerful example. While none of us can change anything to the extent that God can, we can make the world a better place. If even a handful of coffee grounds can follow the example of Christ, then so can I. We are not supposed to cave into our environment; we are not supposed to be hardened by our situation. I am convinced that we are supposed to go out and transform the world, making it better every day.

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