It’s never all about you!

Adam Harbinson
Adam Harbinson

I bumped into a former student of mine, a man in his forties whose marriage has failed. He’s a pleasant sort of a guy, personable and far from stupid, but he has never been able to gain any longterm employment.

He was enthusiastic about his new job as a carer for people with learning difficulties. ‘It’s great,’ he said, ‘I get paid for taking these guys for meals or to play pool, and when I sleep over I get paid £75!’

I felt genuinely sorry for the man and when he had gone, I said to my wife: ‘This one won’t last either.’ Why? Because it is all about him. I don’t mean to be unfairly critical when I say that, but there is an underlying natural law at work. I’ll elaborate:

There’s a story I heard many years ago, told by Zig Ziglar the inspirational speaker, about two lifelong friends who lived in America’s Mid-West. They were neighbours, went to the same school, joined the local railway company on the same day, and yet 40 years later, one retired as the vice-president of the company while the other was still shovelling coal.

They met at the retirement celebrations and the latter asked: ‘How is it that you and I grew up together, were educated together, joined the same company on the same day and worked on the railways together, and yet you ended up running this company, and here am I, still an unskilled labourer?’

Without a hint of pride or arrogance, the vice-president said: ‘Yes Joe, we have much in common, but there was always one fundamental difference. When we began working at the Indiana Railway Company, you worked for you, I worked for the company.’

I was at an employment conference a few months ago and one of the speakers addressed the problem of low productivity in the workplace. One of the difficulties was the cost to employers of absentees, and interestingly the other problem he discussed was the greater cost to employers of what he called ‘presentees’ – those who turn up for work, but who seem to do little else but moan and complain. People who, if they don’t get all they think they are entitled to, spread their negativity and damage morale.

I’m not suggesting that employers have the right to treat their employees as they like, but isn’t it draining listening to serial complainers, people who are always looking over their shoulder to make sure that someone isn’t getting more than they are?

It reminds me of the story in the Bible of the wealthy farmer who chose to pay a denarius to workers he hired to work for a whole day, and they agreed. But these same people caused a near riot when the farmer paid the same to workers who had been hired only an hour before finishing time. ‘We’re entitled to more!’ they howled.

The lesson is, take your eyes off yourself, think of the welfare of others: the boss, work colleagues, and I think the lesson can be applied to every aspect of our lives. Similar to something I was saying a couple of weeks ago:

‘Oh Master grant that I may never seek

So much to be consoled as to console.

To be understood as to understand,

To be loved as to love with all my soul.’