I walked into the office, a 23-year-old recruit, fresh from the halls of academia ready to change the world.
As I sat down, I noticed the message light on my phone blink, blink, blinking away.
I picked it up, punched in my code and heard, “This is a general message from Bob Wieber.”
Bob was the owner, founder and president of the publishing company I was working for. In my six short months with the company, I never had a voice mail from him, much less a company-wide message.
My curiosity piqued, I listened to the strangest voice mail ever. It started like this…
“Once, there was a young man, proud in his abilities and sure he was right in whatever he did. In fact, he was so sure of his abilities he made a point of announcing his acumen to whomever would listen and spared no criticism for those who didn’t see things his way. He was particularly critical of his boss.
“Well, as sometimes happens to young, prideful, self-assured men, he grew older and, with the wisdom of age realized he had been wrong in his assessment of his boss. When he realized his error, he went to his boss’ office to apologize.
“His boss sat for a moment and studied him. Then he said, ‘I tell you what. Take a goose-down pillow to the top of that mountain (he pointed out his window to Colorado’s front range), break it open and shake it as hard as you can. Then, go and pick up each and every feather. When you’ve done that, I will forgive you.’
“Realizing the impossibility of the task, the young man was crestfallen. He turned to walk away, but before he got to the door, the boss said, ‘Son those feathers are the words you used to criticize me and others. Once they leave your mouth, they are gone forever, never to be retrieved, no matter how well intentioned or contrite you might be. Going forward, take care with the words you choose and the words you use–because you are responsible for them.’”
And then, the voice mail clicked off.
To this day, I’m not sure what was going on in the office that warranted such a voice mail, but I could guess–and the powerful message stayed with me for all these years.
I was reminded of this story when I read Darla Davidson Aldred’s story “Creating a Campus Center.” In it, she mentions how Southwestern Michigan College endeavored to design a central campus space that underscored its mission of “knowledge for all.”
The final design set a clock tower in the middle of a paved circle with design features (hardscape and landscape) radiating out in concentric circles like a pebble thrown in the water–or a word spoken for the whole world to hear.
Till next month…
Rodney J. Auth