I met with my sales team last tuesday and told them a story. It’s a story I’ve told many times to people, particularly young people who feel entitled to the comforts of life. Here’s how the story goes:
Once upon a time, there was a teenage boy named, Michael. Michael was a talented boy but he was lazy and complacent, always procrastinating and taking things for granted. One day, after receiving his grades, his parents very angrily told him that he needed to stop with the excuses and learn to be responsible. He needed to start taking his education seriously and fixing his grades. Michael angrily reacted:
“You don’t love me! You only love me when I do well! You only love me when I do the things you tell me to do! When I make mistakes this is how you treat me! Can’t you see I’m trying my best?! I’m tired of this. I’m going to live how I want to live! I want to be loved for me not what I do.”
And with that, he ran up to his room and slammed the door.
His parents didn’t knock on his door that night like they used to. They didn’t try to discuss or explain. To Michael’s surprise they let him be, and in his pride he stayed inside.
The next morning, Michael, already forgetting the discussion the night before, walked into the dining room to see his mom reading the newspaper.
“I’m hungry” he said. “What’s for breakfast?”
“Oh, I wasn’t able to prepare anything. You can go make yourself something in the kitchen.”his mother said.
“What? You didn’t make breakfast? But you always make breakfast?” Michael asked a little irritated.
“I’m sorry. I was so busy doing so many things.” his mom apologized.
Michael walked into the kitchen, opened the cupboards and the fridge, and found them nearly empty. He shouted out, “Mom, there’s nothing here. What am I supposed to eat?”
“Oh I must have forgotten to do the grocery. I’m sorry Mike. Maybe when I have time.” she apologised again.
“Never mind.” he said angrily, “I’ll get something in school. May I have my allowance?”
“Sure, please get it from my wallet on the table.” she said.
“Mom, there’s only P50 here. That’s not enough.”
“I need to withdraw from the bank. I’ll just give you the rest when I have time.” she explained.
“Nothing works around here!” Michael exclaimed. “How hard is it to feed your son?”
“Im really really sorry” his mother said, “I’m trying my best.”
“Well your best means I’m going to go hungry.” Michael interjected.
“I’m really sorry, son. Can’t you see I’m trying my best?” his mom humbly explained.
Then it hit Michael, and embarrassingly, he understood, he was reminded of his own words “Can’t you see I’m trying my best?” The very words he used to excuse his failing grades.
When I tell this story, the point is very clear midway: to be a person of value, someone who makes contributions to the lives of others, especially the people we claim to love and to the causes we claim to be important to us, there needs to be tangible fruit. The problem is, many times, we are so inwardly focused that we’re so stuck on the question “Do others really love me?” when we should be spending more time on the question “Do I truly love?”
Like the teenage Michael, who wanted understanding from his parents, who wanted his parents to be ok with his failing grades because he was trying his best, but was so angry and did not respond lovingly when his mom failed to prepare breakfast, do the grocery, and have cash, we are so angry when others fail us and are equally angry when others don’t understand our failings.
This is another indicator of our human selfishness. We completely understand that intentions are not enough when it comes to our expectations of others but want our intentions to be enough when it comes to our own deliverables.
But maturity means we must move from great expectations of others, to great intentions for them, and even more, to great acts of service and sacrifice. This is what separates great love from cheap love: one is made of transformative action the other is a mood swing.
So let me propose a change in our approach. Starting today, instead of asking, “Do others really love me?”, instead of always questioning others, let us ask ourselves, “Do I truly love?“
Other helpful reflection questions are:
– How do I handle things when my expectations are failed?
– How well do I meet the expectations of others?
– Do I truly have good intentions for the people I claim to love?
– Do my intentions translate to great acts of service and sacrifice?
Our answers to these questions will help us diagnose ourselves on whether we are people who truly love beyond the cheap and common feelings of most of the world.
Feelings are reactions. I do not want to take the most amazing thing in the world, love, and cheapen it into a mere reaction.
As the late President John F. Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” Let’s bring it down to our level, “Ask not what others can do for you – ask what you can do for others.”
I ended my sales meeting with this question:
“You won’t ever accept it if I gave you one Peso less than the salary I have committed to you. Then why do you expect me to accept anything less than what you have committed to me?”