“We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time and no imagination left for being. As a result, men are valued not for what they are but for what they do or what they have - for their usefulness.” -Thomas Merton
The question has changed. And it is has changed significantly. At one time, people would say: What can you do for me? That sounds pretty selfish, does it not? It does not even come close to the sentiment that President Kennedy expressed decades ago in his famous quote: "And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country." That speech was delivered on January 20th, 1961 in his inaugural address to the nation.
The question has changed. Now people say: What can you do for me today? What can you do for me at this very moment? There are serious implications of this shift toward a more specific query. The intensity of self centered thinking in our culture has been raised exponentially.
The question has changed. Roots no longer matter. Never mind that you have been an exceptional leader in the community for decades. And forget the fact that as a public educator you have touched thousands of lives over the course of a long career. And church leaders are not immune. Years of loving pastoral provided by a minister that really cares is not valued to the same degree it would have been as recently as ten years ago.
The question has changed. What can you do for me at this very moment? People demand instantaneous service on their terms. If you are unable to produce, then you are tossed aside. The search for greener pastures begins immediately. You are not valued as a consistent contributor.
The question has changed. But that does not make it right. We all need to be reminded of such basic virtues as loyalty and respect. A leader’s track record of commitment and hard work should be worth something. Impulsive, loud, and immature voices should not be allowed to carry the day when an organization is in crisis. I concur with Thomas Merton. People should be valued for what they are and not exclusively for what they do. And furthermore people should never, ever be appraised for what they can do for us…right now. President Kennedy's thoughts from 51 years ago might just be worth pondering today...