Tuesday, May 1, 2012
I remember it like it was yesterday, despite the reality that it is now almost fifty years since my college debate partner, in his second affirmative speech, referred to me as his colleague. I had made the first affirmative speech, outlining the problem, defining terms, hinting at our proposed solution and sat down. The first negative speaker, following the standard protocol for university argumentation, had sharply critiqued my presentation. And then, as expected, my partner rose to defend me and present our proposed case. In the routine fulfillment of his assignment, my debate partner called me his colleague. I felt all warm inside! I almost lost my concentration and drifted away from the serious mental preparation for my next spot in the debate – so focused was I on the elegant affirmation captured in that simple word, colleague. I guess it was the very first time that someone referred to me as a colleague. I felt almost “grown up” and professional like. From that day until now, I have held this word high in the hiearchy of my own exemplary words. Both the word and its meaning have always been special to me. To be a colleague and to share the status of colleagueship with another is, to me, one of life’s great blessings and, at the same time, one of its most challenging assignments. I have come to the place where I can affirm the importance of colleagues in my life. The narrative of my life contains many characters. But these powerful persons are far more than mere cast members, stage dressing or incidental props in my life’s drama. They are an essential part of its plot. Indeed, the peculiar prose and poetry of my personal passage is the fruit of not a few primary writers. It may well be true that I have never had an original thought, but I have unquestionably been surrounded by several seminal thinkers. If I am the protagonist (from the Greek πρωταγωνιστής protagonistes, "one who plays the first part”) and hero of my own Greek drama, there have been any number of deuteragonists and tritagonists and a small number of genuine antagonists. My novel, in the end, will turn out to have been a joint enterprise, co-written by a consortium of co-creators and colleagues; my song will forever remain the joint result of several collaborators. I have welcomed a few co-conspirators and the colors of my life painting reflect the brush strokes of many artists. If I have contributed any unique design in my world, it is because I am surrounded by many fellow designers. These thoughts hit me like a cool mountain breeze last week when, with my World Personnel Services colleagues, I toured the beautiful and historic monasteries of Meteora, Greece. Many years ago, nobly motivated, individual ascetics largely removed themselves from human contact, fashioned dwellings on the side of and at the top of perilous monoliths and devoted themselves to God. While I have not been summoned to such a life and notwithstanding the lasting contributions of such highly focused piety and such splendid solitude, I am reminded that, except in rare instances, even these monastics lived and worked in community. Indeed, they shared the “higher” calling with colleagues who, though rigorously limited in social contact, were nonetheless integral to their devout lives. Remembering the words of Holy Scripture in one of its earliest passages, I can hear the Almighty say that “It is not good that mankind should be alone.” (Genesis 2:18). Today, I thank God for all who have shared my professional journey and to whom I can respectfully refer as my colleagues.