Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Chapter 3: Calling the Brethren for Counsel

          Whenever important matters are to be transacted in the monastery, the Abbot should call together the whole community, and having heard the brethren's views, let him decide for himself what he thinks is most fitting. And this is why all should be called to the meeting: because the Lord often reveals to the younger what is best. Let the brethren, for their part, give their advice with humble submission, and not presume stubbornly to defend what seems right to them. But as it is fitting for disciples to obey their master, so also it is fitting for the master to manage all things with prudence and justice. Therefore, let all follow the Rule as their guide in everything, and let no one depart from it just because they want to. No one in the monastery should follow the whims of his own heart, and no one should dare to argue disrespectfully with his Abbot, either inside or outside the monastery. Let the Abbot himself, however, do everything in the fear of the Lord and out of reverence for the Rule, knowing that, beyond a doubt, he will have to give an account to God, the most just Judge, for all his rulings.
 
           I honestly don’t know which is harder, having to be detached from your own opinion, or having to listen to everyone else’s. But Saint Benedict wants us to do both. For a monk, even leadership is about listening—and get this: the younger monks often have the best advice. So even the abbot has to practice listening. After all, the monastery isn’t a dictatorship; the superior has to follow the rules just like everyone else. But then, the monastery isn’t a democracy either. So when push comes to shove, the abbot must have the last word. And each monk is bound by his vow of obedience to do what he says and not to grumble when they think their advice has been ignored.
            Many years ago, I had a boss who seemed to want his own business to fail. I don’t know what was wrong with this guy, but it felt to me like he invented special rules just to keep us from succeeding. So I typed up a proposal detailing the various improvements I felt ought to be made to enhance our productivity and competitiveness. I wrote it in the most civil, official-sounding, courteous terms possible. I had my coworkers proofread it, and they agreed it was full of good ideas. Then, with all the respect and deference I could muster, I submitted it to my boss. Naturally, he ignored it. So I sent the proposal to his boss, who read it, called me into his office, told me I’d made some excellent points, and then didn’t do anything about it either. Well, I didn’t want all that work to go to waste, so I rewrote it one last time and sent it to the CEO, who of course never responded at all. That’s when I decided to write an actual letter of complaint, protesting the incompetency of my employer, and detailing my proposal in stronger terms that I thought might finally get someone’s attention.
           At that point, a wise coworker took me by the arm, sat me down in the employee lounge, and said, “The boss knows what you think. And his boss knows what you think. Everyone knows what you think, from the CEO down to the floor manager. So maybe it’s time for you to shut up.” I hummed and hawed and lectured him for a few minutes, and when I stopped, he took my complaint out of my hands, threw it in the trash and said, “You lost. Get over it. Every boss appreciates an assertive employee, but there’s a very fine line between being assertive and being a jerk. You just crossed that line."
             Not only did his advice save me my job, it actually gave me great peace of mind. A sad fact of being human is that sometimes you lose. Sometimes people don’t want to hear what you have to say. So what? You try your hardest and you do what you can. But you have to allow for the very real possibility that you may be wrong. And that’s ok too. Because in the end, God does not call us to be successful. He calls us to be faithful.