Martin Luther King, Jr.
Try not to become a man of success but a man of value.
Try a Google search on the word “success” and more times than not you’ll see images and articles pertaining to money, power, influence and prestige. That’s how much of the world defines it. Just last week we were doing some work in a local library, surrounded by books on non-profits, each trumpeting wisdom on how to make non-profits a success. And the primary message on the covers of so many of the books was about making money – and not about how non-profits could provide vital services and change lives in meaningful ways. That disheartened us. While we certainly and starkly understand the reality and necessity of generating money to run our non-profit, any non-profit, we also know that we can never take our eyes off the reason for our non-profit – that of helping people live healthier, more hopeful, more contented lives, more fulfilling lives.
Money needs to be the means to an end. It can never simply be the end. If we forget that principle, then we have compromised our values and our true reason for doing what we are doing to provide a safe place for people to share, to explore and to grow. The world so often values people who work exceedingly long hours, who make lots of money, who can buy the biggest house, who can take the most exotic vacations, who can drive the fanciest cars, who can kick the most ass, who will take no prisoners and who step over people who stand in their way. We celebrate those traits and those who exhibit them on our obsession with the bottom line. And when we do that we fail to take human costs into account. While we ourselves value hard work (and work very hard at what we do) and value the opportunities that money can afford and value the ability to affect real and lasting change, we realize that those things cannot be ends unto themselves. All our work and all the money we accumulate and spend and all the influence we seek must not be exclusively for those purposes. Ultimately our efforts are hollow unless the bottom line of our efforts is about service, about helping to bring about a greater good.
It’s easy for all of us to distort the line between being a person of success versus being a person of value – a person of meaning, of grace, of virtue and of love.
When Michael and his family visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., as well as the Dachau concentration camp, near Munich, Germany, this lesson was brought starkly and searingly home to them. In both visits they saw exhibits and examples of how people with disabilities – like their youngest son Matthew’s – were some of the first to be exterminated by the Nazis, but not before they would have had cruel and horrifically dehumanizing “medical“ experiments inflicted upon them. It was very painful to be confronted so bluntly with the fact that Matthew would have been considered unimportant, unworthy, not of value in the Nazi world order. But we know differently – all people are of value on this earth. Matthew may not be able to produce anything or make money or serve in the world’s sense. But he can and does touch lives and teaches what unconditional love is all about. And the impact of that is more profound than anyone can measure.
Our value in the world, our real value, cannot be measured in terms of statistics or salaries or production. But our value is measured in our uniqueness, in our sincerity and in the hearts we touch with goodness, with grace and with love.
That is how success is measured with us.