The salt shaker lesson

The salt shaker lesson

There has been a lot of anger as well as frustration that has gone around the country lately and much of it has to do with the “less than inspiring” quality of leaders we have. In fact, if you’re looking for inspiration or hope, you are unlikely to find it from our national leaders regardless of the sector or community they come from. If it’s inspiration and hope in the motherland you seek, walk the streets where ordinary Filipinos are and there you will find all of that because it is the ordinary Filipino who lives out the meaning of sacrifice, integrity and hope. Without the trappings of illegitimate wealth and political power, the ordinary Filipino has clarity about what is important. They can’t make deals, they simply get by. They know what they signed up for and they do what is expected of them because their families depend on them. In spite of all that, we cannot help but be mad at our elected officials, political appointees and opportunistic, amoral deal makers who twist, lie and steal in order to turn profits worse than a prostitute turning tricks.

In fact, things have gotten so bad that nowadays “the accused” behave like “the accuser” who apply the “catfish defense” of muddying the issue and turning the tables around. People instinctively react by getting mad, jumping into the verbal or social media rumble. Others begin to question their sanity for continuing to stay or live in a country where the rich gets richer, the poor gets poorer and politics and government get dirtier by the day. Last but not the least, some simply insulate or withdraw from the ugliness of it all and feed their disenchantment by focusing on their needs and giving up on the country. I too have my doubts, anger and frustration and during these times I simply knock on Heaven’s doors and ask God for wisdom. Yesterday, as I cleared my mind by sharpening and de-rusting garden tools and knives, I listened to a series of sermons by our senior pastor at Every Nation Church, Steve Murell, and he told of a story back in our 2019 global conference that helped me refocus on what I need to do as a journalist, Christian and as a Filipino. Pastor Steve talked about “The Salt Shaker.”

“Danny Mayer is the founder of the Union Square Hospitality Group. Many years ago when Danny was a brand new restaurateur with his first new restaurant, Union Square Cafe in New York City, he was extremely frustrated as a young man with a successful business because it seemed like their core values of hospitality and excellence seemed to regularly disappear. And he was sitting with his mentor who was an older restaurant owner in New York City and Danny vented to this mentor, who listened and finally he has enough and he said, ‘Danny, move everything off of the table. Every plate, every fork, every flower, get it all off the table.’ Then the mentor reached over and got the salt shaker and he handed it to Danny and he said, ‘Danny, I want you to put this salt shaker right exactly at the center of this table.’

“Danny takes it, looks at the edges and puts it right at the center. No sooner did Danny’s fingers let it go, his mentor took it and moved it three inches and said, ‘Put it back.’ Danny put it back in the center and immediately his mentor moved the salt shaker all the way to the edge; put it back. He moved – put it back, move it – put it back, move it – put it back. After a while Danny realized it was a Mr. Miyagi (The Karate Kid movie) moment.

“His mentor said, ‘Your job as a leader is not to get mad when people move your values and your culture off-center. Your job is to put it back. Everyday someone will move your culture off-center. Everyday someone will move your values off-center. Sometimes it’s your waiters, sometimes it’s your cook, sometimes it’s your maitre’d, sometimes it’s your accounting office, sometimes it’s the New York food critics. It will keep getting moved off center. Some people move it because they are bad people and they want to make your life difficult. Those are the exception. Other people move it because they actually think they are helping you. Some people are just so busy they don’t have time to pay attention to see where it exactly goes, some people don’t share your vales, some people do but they are negligent. Whatever the reason, your job is not to get mad at them but to move it back because that’s what leaders do. The moment you get tired of moving your values and culture back to the center, that’s the day when you should quit your job and let someone else do it. Don’t ever surrender your values and culture!’”

“Our values and our culture” are what defines us, guide us and give us the hope and the grit to see things through, even when Goliaths walk the land. Whether it’s a Pontius Pilate asking Jesus, “What is the truth?”or Jack Nicholson challenging us by saying “You can’t handle the truth” or Duterte and all the President’s men redefining our political values and culture.

“Don’t ever surrender your values and culture.” Don’t allow them to move your salt shaker from the center. Instead make an effort to increase the clarity and purpose of those values and your culture at home, at work, even on social media. What is it you stand for and why? Are your culture and your values something you would proudly pass on as an inheritance and lifestyle to your children? Is it something you can live by with no guilt or shame? Is it based on generosity or selfishness? Be clear – then stand your ground.

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