I lead the service occasionally at my Trinity Lutheran Church in Keyser — not something in years past I ever would have expected to happen.
This is part of a sermon (most of what passes for theology has been edited out) I gave recently. It’s based on Luke’s Gospel, in which Jesus says “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
It’s not hard to tell when people believe they are important. The way they talk and behave leaves no doubt in your mind. I’ve met my share of them, and being around them gets old in a hurry.
When someone is impressed by what he thinks is his own importance, he’s probably covered by the part of our liturgy that says “He deceives himself, and the truth is not in him.”
It doesn’t help that some people are easily impressed and fooled by what they think is another person’s importance. They must believe that attaching themselves to someone they believe is important somehow makes themimportant.
There are many important roles in life, but relatively few of the people who fill them are important. It’s what you do with your role that determines your significance.
People who are truly important don’t usually act like they’re important. They inspire respect and trust, rather than dislike or distrust.
You can be important to a small number of people, even if they will never be aware that you exist. That’s the case with a woman I know who helps to coordinate “Bikes for the World” at the local level.
This year, she and those she works with collected 174 bicycles that were to be sent to other countries for use by people who otherwise would have no form of transportation.
Those bikes will allow someone to hold a job or get health care or give a child a chance to go to school. Someone who used to spend hours walking to get water now can make the trip in far less time and carry more water.
Each year, my friend and her buddies make life better for people who will never know their names. But they don’t care about that. That’s not why they do what they do. This, in my eyes, makes them important.
Being president of the United States is an important job. What Abraham Lincoln did with it made him important. Most of our presidents were only caretakers of the office ... some of them obviously leaving it in better condition than others.
One of our former reporters had an ego that was as gargantuan as it was unjustified.
When I introduced him to a secretary in an office I covered, he said “You’ve probably seen my byline.”
She replied, “No, I haven’t.” The look on his face made me turn away and bite my tongue to keep from howling. He exalted himself, and she humbled him.
To do anything properly, you need self-confidence, or you won’t be able to do it. It doesn’t matter what it is. You must believe in yourself.
You also need some humility to balance your ego. You’re as human as anyone else and have the same vulnerabilities and the same capacity for making mistakes. It takes maturity on top of humility to admit that you’re wrong. I know this from experience.
I’m the editorial page editor here and write a column. I never thought that made me important. Someone else did my job before I got here, and someone else will do it after I’m gone.
I hate it when somebody introduces me as the guy who writes for the Cumberland paper because the odds are good the person I’m meeting has no idea who I am.
It used to get to me when a pretty young woman said, “Oh, I know who you are. My mother really likes what you write.” Her mother. Or her grandmother. I don’t mind that so much any more because Granny is probably my age, and Mom is younger than I am.
One gauge of your relative importance involves the way you treat those who work with you or, especially, for you.
Suter Kegg was our sports editor when I started at the newspaper. He took the time to teach me some of what he knew and coach me. He told me what I did that he liked or didn’t like, and how I could improve it. Nobody else did that.
I worked for Suter, but we also worked together. How important he was in the overall scheme of things, I can’t say. Because of the effect he had on my career and my life, he was one of the most important people I ever met.
Suter is why I treat younger people with respect and friendship instead of acting like I’ve paid my dues and they haven’t. I might be able to teach them, but they might teach me ... or remind me of something I had forgotten.
A friend of mine makes the coffee for his office, and he makes his own phone calls instead of having his secretary do it. He says she has enough to do already. I respect him for that.
He was an Army lieutenant in Vietnam. He knew that while his men had to work for him, he had to be their leader and their advocate. He held his platoon together and made it work as a team. He was tough on them, but kept them alive.
If you treat those who work with you or for you with kindness, respect and understanding, and offer them compassion and forgiveness when they need it, they will help you do your own job better.
You will learn to trust each other and work as a team. That’s how we do it in our newsroom.
However ... if you treat them as though they were inferior, incompetent or stupid, you’ll be alone, surrounded by potential adversaries instead of teammates. I’ve seen that happen.
When you look down on other people with the attitude that you’re somehow superior to them, you are ignoring the fact that they know things you do not and can do things you cannot.
If you think other people aren’t good enough for you, the reality might be that you’re not good enough for them.