“If I had a nickle for every time a students has used that excuse with me… ‘my brother died, and I had to leave your class today’, I’d be a wealthy man. Prove it!” barked the professor at a local university.
Maybe a little context might help.
Over a year ago, as a pastor, I had the honor of performing a funeral for a local family whose son passed away over Christmas break. The funeral was attended by nearly 600 of this 23 year old kids’ friends and family. It blew the capacity of our sanctuary out and people were standing in the narthex outside the doors of the church to listen and grieve with the family.
The little brother of the man who had passed away was composed and poised as he came forward during the service to pay honor to his big brother and say a few words. He sauntered up to the stage, taking his deliberate time to soak in each moment ascending the steps to the pulpit, slowly turn around and gaze into almost every set of eyes that were welling with tears throughout the entire sanctuary. Honestly, I thought he would never speak because he was so riveted in focus on every face in the house. It was a 3 minute pause, and with unforgettable grace, he cleared his throat, began nodding his head with lips persed… and said, “Well, I guess I win the (insert brother’s name) look-alike contest.”
The congregation breathed a sigh, even laughed a little because the tension in the room was so heavy, and enjoyed his 3 minutes of memories of his brother. With a blown kiss to his mother, followed by the slow, deliberate saunter back down the stage steps to his chair by his father, he sat down. It’s a moment I will not soon forget. As far as funeral settings go, it’s one of the top “Made to Stick” memories that slipped into a moment in time as effortlessly as anything I’ve witnessed.
A month later, this little brother decided to go back to school and begin his freshman year at a local university. He was sitting in his class, when a panic attack hit him concerning the recent loss of his brother. He picked up his things, stood up in the middle of the professor’s lecture, and walked out of the room. The professor witnessed this, what he thought was a defiant act of rejection to his lecture (small, insecure professor that he must be) and decided to give the class a pop-quiz on the spot, so that little brother would lose points for the year.
The next class session, insecure professor spoke to little brother by saying the quote above… “Do you know how many times I’ve heard that excuse, ‘my brother died’? Prove it!” So little brother, without saying another word, returned home to his grieving mother, asked for a copy of the recent death certificate, and returned to insecure professor with the proven draft … sauntered into class with confidence, handed the document to his professor and took his seat.
Kudos to you little brother. My hat’s off to your second act of “Made to Stick” public response.
Reader: I don’t know about your style of leadership, but as a leader, teacher, professor, parent or pastor, how do you react to what seems like public rejection of your teaching or leading? Do you lead like this insecure professor did?
Granted, I don’t know what sort of things were going on in the professor’s life that day, that week, or month. I don’t know if professor was dealing with the emotional tide of potential job loss, or impending performance reviews, or personal rejection. I am not trying to do the same thing to this unknown professor by rejecting him along with his actions, like he did to little brother. I’m just wondering if he couldn’t have shown a little more grace in the situation.
Jesus Christ’s little step-brother, James tells us in his letter (James 1:19-20) “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”
What is the kind of righteousness that God desires? Really… I read this as righteousness that is slow to become angry, that’s the kind of righteousness that God desires. Is it wrong to become angry? Certainly not, Jesus became angry at the denigration of the temple in his ministry. God expects Christian leaders to be righteously angry at the injustices in the world regarding sin. But to become humanly angry enough to throw a pop-quiz in class when a kid leaves your lecture, so that he might do poorly on a grade… that’s inappropriate anger.
“Quick to listen, slow to speak.”
You know what the redeeming factor is in this account of the little brother? He didn’t blow up at the professor. He didn’t get emotionally tied into his mother’s feelings when she questioned this professor’s actions. He didn’t respond, like I would have, in writing a letter to the dean of students trying to get Mr. Insecure Professor slapped on the wrist for treating a student like this, or even getting him fired. Nope. Mr. Little Brother just took it in stride, along with his grieving process, and did what the professor asked of him.
Little brother showed more grace, more honor, more deliberate “slow to become angry” (if at all) than I could have in this situation.
My perspective of leadership has grown by hearing about what not to do when feeling personal rejection… “prove it!”, and what TO DO when questioned (fairly or unfairly) about my actions.
What kind of leadership have you seen that reminds you to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry? How are you learning in this journey of “the kind of righteousness God desires”?