111. Humble heroes.

Over the past several months I have had the extreme privilege of meeting several young men and women who volunteered to serve our country in uniform during the time our military was deployed in Afghanistan.

Regardless of our political views as to whether we believe we should or should not have sent our troops to Afghanistan, these soldiers are deserving of our uppermost gratitude and respect.

They answered the highest call possible, the call to serve their country, knowing that in doing so they would be placing themselves in harm’s way and run the very real risk of forfeiting their lives or suffer harm and injuries the likes of which make up our worst nightmares.

These young people I met are the very model of The Habit of Humility. They do not see themselves as heroes but merely as ordinary people doing the job to which they were assigned; defending our country.

Most soldiers, returning from battle, will never speak of the horrors they witnessed.

They see things no-one should ever have to see, hears sounds that will haunt them forever and smell smells they may never get out of their nostrils.

Their jobs require them to commit horrific acts and many of them relive those horrors forever in their dreams.

It takes a special person to volunteer for a job that may kill them and these young soldiers were driven to do so for they felt honour bound to serve their country and the humility with which they downplay their heroism is a lesson in modesty for us all.

One of them shared with me his anguish at having lost two dear friends. One through hostilities while being deployed and one through suicide upon his return.

He spoke of the greatness of both of these folks, whose love of country led them to volunteer for our military and whose commitment to duty caused one to die in battle and one, whose inability to shut out the nightmarish images, sounds and smells of battle, drove him to take his own life.

We have tens of thousands of humble Canadians who will never see themselves as heroic and yet selflessly gave of themselves to serve their country.

I am proud to call these young people my friends and I am honoured by their presence whenever we meet.

Their adoption and commitment to The Habit of Humility is testament to their character and we, as a nation, owe an unpayable debt of gratitude to all those who serve.

We all know people whose favourite topic is themselves and who – often unasked – will regale all who will listen with story after story of their greatness.

They waste no opportunity to brag of their exploits and boast of their own brilliance as if somehow that makes them better people.

They seldom are humble despite frequently having much to be humble about.

Our true heroes are those who selflessly give of themselves, ask nothing in return and downplay recognition as being unnecessary.

They have no need to express and no desire to impress.

The Habit of Humility tells their stories in ways that bragging never can.

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.

110. Humility speaks louder than bragging.

A friend called recently and asked whether I would meet with a long-time colleague of hers who was considering a career change and thinking of becoming a management consultant.

Naturally, I agreed, her colleague called and we arranged to meet over lunch.

In selecting the restaurant he asked whether I would mind meeting close to his office as he “really hated wasting time in traffic”.

Intrigued that a stranger, seeking my advice, would suggest that my time is not as valuable as his and therefore I could well afford to spend time in traffic in order to meet him, I nevertheless decided to go along with his request.

Lunch lasted a little over an hour and while the food was delicious the company proved to be, at best, extremely trying.

He began by asking me a few questions about myself and each time I started to answer he would interrupt to tell me how he had successfully dealt with similar circumstance while completely ignoring anything I had to say.

He mentioned he considered himself to be an expert in a wide variety of fields and was certain he would experience great and immediate success as an independent consultant once potential clients learned how much he had to offer.

This man seemed completely unaware of his own lack of humility and while my normal behaviour would be to share with him my own thoughts which, as we have frequently discussed, represent nothing more than my opinion, in this instance I chose to say nothing because I was quite fascinated by this man’s total absence of self-awareness.

He boasted, he bragged, he offered stark criticism of many others, always comparing himself to them, in a way that naturally showed him in good light.

Humility is not part of this man’s make up and at the end of our meeting when he suggested that I would probably be doing myself a favour by referring him to potential clients, I took the opportunity to tell him why that probably will never happen.

Later that evening I was watching an interview with two of the wealthiest men on the planet; Warren Buffett, and Bill Gates.

They were talking about philanthropy and their hopes for the future. Bill Gates spoke of the work his foundation is doing around the world and saving millions of lives and Warren Buffett spoke of the contribution that his dollars will make to ensure this work continues.

What struck me most about these two self-made billionaires was the absence of any reference to their own personal greatness or success. They both spoke of the role that luck had played in their lives and how fortunate they were in being where they are. At no time did either of them mention their own accomplishments.

I could not help but compare my lunch companion – a man whose greatness certainly exists in his own mind – and these two icons who have brought so much of value to the world and who are gracious, modest and humble at all times.

I know self-promotion is touted as being an essential prerequisite to success and that those who market themselves put themselves in the right place at the right time, and “play the game” frequently rise to the top. They frequently do so more through their self-promotion skills than their other talents.

The two men I was watching on television clearly practice The Habit of Humility to the extent that it is not merely a habit, but an everyday part of who they are.

And it is this Habit of Humility that endears them to so many millions of others.

It is interesting as we go through life to meet people whose favourite topic is themselves and who will, at the drop of the proverbial hat, boast of their own greatness completely oblivious to the fact that the audience, for the most part, just does not care.

Today I proudly introduce The Habit of Humility and will continue this discussion over the next two weeks because it is this habit that keeps us grounded. Those who practice this understand at a very visceral level, that regardless of the one’s life accomplishments none of us are better than any of us.

The Habit of Humility – I’ve been thinking of trying it but do I really have the right to deny sharing my greatness with everyone I meet?

You do know I’m kidding, don’t you?

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.

109. An admirable family tradition.

Over the past two weeks of discussing The Habit of Selfless Giving, I have received many calls and emails from people telling me of parents and grandparents who exemplify selfless giving in the very ways in which they conduct their lives. This afternoon I received a call quite different from all the others. This time the caller was a grandparent calling to proudly brag of the selfless exploits of her 23-year-old granddaughter, Megan.

Megan, from an early age took great delight in sharing her food with her siblings and her toys with her friends. She seemed to always concern yourself with insuring those around her were happy and having fun.

As she grew up and entered her teens she freely volunteered her time to mentor classmates who were struggling and to offer her services such as cutting grass and shoveling snow to elderly neighbours in the community.

At age 16, having decided on a career as a paramedic, she completed a first aid course and then volunteered her services at neighbourhood sporting events. She was also the designated driver of choice at all her friend’s parties.

She attended university and completed a bachelor’s degree before furthering her education to become a paramedic and, despite a gruelling schedule, still found time to volunteer each week at her church and twice a week at the local food bank.

Her grandmother explained to me that Megan does not know how to not give of herself and sees it as her mission to rid the world of all its aches and pains.

She also is rather humble about her deeds and jokingly explains her actions to those who ask that volunteering one’s time to help others in any capacity is the most self-serving, hedonistic and narcissistic of all acts because how else can one get so much pleasure from doing so little?

I asked Megan’s grandmother where she thought this driven need to help came from and she explained that both of Megan’s parents, her daughter and son-in-law, were like minded and strongly believe that our most important role life is to serve others and help those less fortunate.

It took a little further digging on my part before Megan’s grandmother would confess to having played an enormous role in shaping her daughters sharing philosophy and that she too had been raised by parents who freely gave of themselves to all.

The Habit of Selfless Giving
has been a guiding light in this family for four generations and one can only marvel at the thought of the countless number of people whose lives have been enriched by the actions with these wonderful people.

I asked her to ask Megan to call me and when she did, and I told her of everything her grandmother had said. She shyly commented that to her The Habit of Selfless Giving simply means doing the things that give you the greatest pleasure and for her that pleasure comes from helping others.

Megan is a young lady with a long life ahead of her and one can only imagine how many lives will be brightened as she spreads her message of service.

There’s no question The Habit of Selfless Giving benefits those who give as much as those who receive. Life doesn’t offer too many activities that produce equal and reciprocal value so perhaps the message for all of us is that if we want our lives to be happier we simply need to give more.

Food for thought, isn’t it?

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.

108. These folks make a difference.

Last week we talked about The Habit of Selfless Giving and our discussion unleashed a barrage of emails and phone calls, each to tell me of a very special person who, in the eyes of the caller or writer, is the embodiment of this important habit.

I believe I have received more responses from this blog than from any of the almost of 400 I have written over the years.

I have learned of so many people whose devotion to easing the pain of others, or help make the lives of others a little easier or who simply help to put a smile on the faces of those who have little to smile about is not only heartwarming but in these times, when we are told almost daily of the many acts of evil perpetuated around the world, serve as an important counterweight to remind us that our world is indeed filled with many, many wonderful people.

A proud granddaughter told me of the wonderful grandparents who, while both working full time, and raising three “overachieving kids, including my dad”, each donated upwards of 20 hours each week by volunteering their time and talents at the local hospital, at the church, at a senior’s facility and a community soup kitchen.

Her parents do the same and she proudly carries on the family tradition.

There was the delighted mom who told me of her nine-year-old daughter who taught several of her friends to sew. These young girls get together two or three times each week to make dresses and send them to young girls in faraway impoverished countries who can only dream of ever owning a brand-new, pretty dress.

Her daughter chose to forgo a birthday party and instead asked friends to donate fabric so she and her team could increase their production.

A young man, boasted of his sister, a teacher, who, at her own expense, travels to a distant South American country every summer to help build homes for the homeless and invites children of new immigrants into her home and helps them learn to read.

I learned of a young couple, both with full-time jobs, who donate one of their salaries to help support an international outreach program conducted by their church and spend their vacation in the field as outreach volunteers.

I read of young man who gave 25% of an $80,000 inheritance to each of three people from low income homes in his city so that all four of them could enjoy the benefits of a university education.

Each story told of the spirit of a wonderful person or people who found enormous reward in serving others and who spoke of the endless joy that is the reward of selfless giving.

If there is a common theme among these magnanimous heroes and is that none of them had any expectation of reward in return for their and selfless devotion to others.

We all have the opportunity of serving others be it through the donation of our time, our resources or our assets.

We don’t all take the time, as part of our life’s habits, to selflessly give and the lesson I have learned from this busy week of reading emails and talking on the phone is that by not doing so we deny ourselves the marvellous opportunity to enrich our lives in ways you can barely imagine.

The Habit of Selfless Giving. I’m trying in my own small way to become a better practitioner.

Let’s do this together.

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.