From Dread to Purpose

A man who works in the federal government shared a remarkable story.  He handles the press and he was assigned to be part of an open hearing on a volatile subject.  It was his first such event and he naturally carried some fear.  In a conversation with a colleague, he learned she had run such a session.  He was surprised when she shared her experiences with enthusiasm.
She told me her purpose in those meetings was to listen to people, to let them be heard, and that she saw her role as helping to “lower the temperature in the room.”  For example, one protestor wrapped himself in a flag and walked to the front of the hall and blocked the stage where she was sitting.  Her colleagues said, “Aren’t you going to ask him to move?”  She replied, “Why?  The meeting hasn’t started yet.  He’s not disturbing anyone.”  As the meeting began, the protestor moved away from the stage and the meeting began in an orderly fashion.

She also told me how their plane was grounded in Chicago en route to a public meeting.  She and her team decided to rent cars and they drove 11 hours, slept four hours, then got up and worked all day to prepare for the meeting.  That night the meeting was supposed to end around 8:00 PM; instead, she allowed it to go until past 11:00 PM to ensure everyone who had come got a chance to speak their mind.  The she proudly said, “You should see the photo from the end of that night.  Our team was exhausted, but we were all smiling.”

Nearing the end of our interview, I said, “It seems like you came out unscathed.  How did you do that?”  She said, “Leading those meetings was one of the highlights of my career.”  She again spoke of the team she worked with and how they were united and how the meetings were an expression of democracy.

This conversation had great impact on my friend.  He began to focus on the higher purpose and it turned his emotions positive.  When he arrived at the appointed place, his colleagues were deeply concerned about what might happen.

We expected there would be protesters and some of individuals might arrive intoxicated and fights might break out.  As our security colleagues briefed us on countermeasures, I listened and tried to learn everyone’s names.  A question came up about what we should say to the media and someone asked me to stand and speak to that point.  I encouraged the group to send journalists my way as I was prepared to offer on-the-record statements, if need be. 

After I finished answering my colleagues’ questions, I felt I should say one more thing.  I related the previous conversation with my colleague.  I told the group that she had seen those meetings as a highlight of her career and she had spoken of the dignity of democratic processes like this one.  After I shared that, I sat down.  Later, I was surprised as several individuals approached me privately and told me how much they appreciated what I had shared.

The meeting went smoothly and about 175 people attended and voiced their opinions in spirited but civil conversations for and against the subject in question.  I engaged several visitors and I felt it was an honor to hear their stories.  I am grateful for our public meeting.

On a daily basis, each of us deals with expectations to do something that creates a sense of dread.  The task becomes a problem to solve.  We approach the problem in anxiety.  When we clarify our highest purpose, we put ourselves into a contributive state.  We become servants of the purpose.  Anxiety declines and performance tends to climb.  How we frame what we are obliged to do changes the quality of the experience and the quality of our lives.

Reflection

  • What is the next activity you will engage with a sense of duty and dread?
  • What is the highest purpose to be served in the activity?
  • What might happen if you go to the activity carrying vision, commitment, and hope?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

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