This is my last monthly Voice column. A year ago I was pretty worried about doing these. Pretty much the only regular writing I did was technical in nature; fairly incomprehensible to anyone but the folks it was written for, and probably of little interest even to them.
But it’s turned out to be fun, though I’ve gained solid appreciation for Rev. John and others who must rely on compositional creativity to make a living. I’m grateful for the opportunity and have appreciated the supportive comments.
One thing I’ve been consistent about – I think I’ve missed every Voice deadline this year which has not been fair to our wonderful Voice Editor Danise Begnaud. Thanks Danise for putting up with me.
I’m writing this article in the car on the way back from a wedding in Texas. The article was way too long and had a long preamble about basketball, so I’ve handed over the computer to Robyn to edit (I’m driving now and she will be merciless since she doesn’t care AT ALL about basketball).
Robyn’s summary: Larry loves basketball and developed “sports hate” for certain players and teams. The Celtics became his favorite team and the Lakers his most “hated”.
Famous Laker’s coach, Pat Riley, wrote a book in 1994 called The Leader Within. It was one of those “how to be a great leader” books popular with ambitious corporate types. Although I did not read the actual book, one of the concepts has stuck with me through the years. It’s something Riley calls “The Disease of Me.”
Pat Riley argues that whether we know it or not, all of us are team players and it is through the team that we find significance. Yet the team can be undermined by the Disease of Me. In The Winner Within, he describes it as the overpowering belief in the importance of oneself. “The most difficult thing for individuals to do when they’re part of the team is to sacrifice. It is so easy to become selfish in a team environment.” The Disease of Me is ever present, but it can be anticipated and overcome. Riley lists the following symptoms of the disease:
- “Inexperience in dealing with sudden success
- Chronic feelings of under appreciation
- Paranoia over being cheated out of one’s rightful share
- Resentment against the competence of partners
- Personal effort mustered solely to outshine a teammate
- A leadership vacuum resulting from the formation of cliques and rivalries
- Feelings of frustration even when the team performs successfully”
From a sports perspective, Riley was attempting to explain why it is so difficult for great teams to maintain their success. It’s pretty common for championship teams to fall short the next year. Riley’s own teams had suffered in this way, and he spent a lot of time trying to figure out why.
In my opinion it has relevance to church life.
Let’s first admit that, even when doing service, most of try to “do a good job,” and that our self-esteem is, to a greater or lesser extent depending on the individual, wrapped up in doing so.
We join a committee, teach RE, are elected as a church officer, or otherwise volunteer to help the church “team” in some way. Perhaps it is very fun and energizing to do service work, rewarding in a way very different from our normal occupations. We give it our all, and feel good about the work done by our team. Probably we take justified pride in our own unique contributions to the team success. Maybe we begin to notice “thank-you’s” or “good job’s” are few and far between. Maybe, even when appreciation does come, it comes to the team and doesn’t really seem to recognize the really cool things that we, as individuals, brought to the effort. Worse yet, maybe someone else gets the credit for something we did. We may begin to suffer from “chronic feelings of under appreciation.”
In reaction, we may get a little resentful. We may develop a little righteous certainty that our ideas are the best ideas, but others just can’t see it. We may begin to quietly but persistently push for those ideas so we are sure to be recognized for them. We may get a little paranoid and start to believe others are working against us.
If this goes on long enough, we may find that committee meetings are consumed with arguments about whose ideas are right and should be acted upon. We start to believe that Joe is out to get us. We may start to enlist support from others against Joe.
Then, someone may say, “It’s really not about us, is it? Isn’t it really about?”
And all of a sudden we gulp and wonder to ourselves how it got so crazy and we strayed so far from service.
How do we prevent the Disease of Me? Perhaps the most important thing is to periodically check oneself for the disease. In the context of the church that may mean periodically reassessing one’s goals and motives against the Mission and Vision of the church. When my son’s verbally snipe at each other, Robyn often asks, “Will that comment improve your relationship with your brother?” We should ask ourselves, “Is my motivation here serving the Mission or serving me?”
Another thing that helps me to is to try to detach my self-esteem from my church work. When I have the presence of mind to remember the Disease of Me I remind myself that church is not the place to make my personal mark, to measure my abilities, to test my skills, or to impress others.
Probably each of us should think of our own “best practices” to prevent or treat the Disease of Me. The first step is to admit that we are susceptible. I know I am.
2011-2012 Church President