Several years ago in Golf Digest magazine, I read a story about a young golfer named Charlie Siem. He was playing in a tournament and after making the winning putt, he bent down to retrieve his ball from the cup. Immediately, he realized that the ball in the cup was not his. At some point along the course, he had played the wrong ball.
Hitting the wrong ball in a golf tournament is grounds for disqualification. However, in Charlie’s case, no one else knew he had hit the wrong ball. Still, he presented the ball to the tournament officials and was promptly disqualified from a tournament he had just won.
This was a case of a young man’s principles guiding his decision—even though it was not an easy decision to make.
When I think of behavioral principles, I’m reminded of a phrase I heard as a child but had no idea what it meant. The phrase was, “He is worth his salt.”
As someone who cooks quite a bit, I didn’t think being compared to a cheap commodity like salt seemed particularly complimentary, but the phrase supposedly has its origins in ancient Rome where soldiers were paid in salt. At the time, salt was quite valuable.
And in the Christian Bible, there are numerous references to salt. Most use salt as a metaphor about enhancing our lives the same way salt enhances food. Christians are supposed to be the “salt of the earth”, or to bring value to the world. Perhaps salt, like principles, is more valuable than I realized.
In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey said, “Principles are guidelines for human conduct that are proven to have enduring, permanent value.”
Principles are the way we carry ourselves through life and work, and essentially, they are our salt. Our principles are the seasoning that makes life better. So, I thought I would spend the next couple of articles focusing on the principles I have chosen to guide my life and work. Hopefully, by seeing them, you will think more purposefully about your own principles and how they season your life. Then, hopefully, we can all be worth our salt.
One morning, after getting dressed for a presentation, I got my second cup of coffee from the free hotel breakfast bar. As I sat the cup down on the desk in my hotel room, the lid slipped off of the cup. The cup bounced onto the desk back up in the air and then coffee spewed all over me and the floor. I did not have much of an “attitude of gratitude” at that particular moment. In fact, I recall a few “salty” words that were brewing in my head. And yet, after my initial irritation, I realized that there were many things for which I was grateful.
On that particular morning, I was grateful to be working. I was grateful to be in a decent hotel with a free breakfast. I was grateful for my client and the audience who ultimately appreciated my presentation, despite their wondering why the sleeve of my shirt was brown.
Here is the funny thing about appreciation. Sometimes it’s offered too routinely and we fail to recognize the sincerity. Just like the person who salts their food without tasting it, it’s automatic and not purposeful. True appreciation is sincere intentional gratitude for the good things in our lives and by reminding ourselves of this on a regular basis, life tastes a little better.
The simple truth is that when we have balance, we don’t fall down. And we need balance in most areas of our lives. We need balance between work and play. We need balance between people time and alone time. We need balance between our spiritual, emotional, and intellectual experiences. Otherwise, just as too much salt can mask the flavor of our food, we don’t get to experience the full variety of flavors in our lives.
One year, I had taken on too many volunteer jobs in my Rotary club, my church, and my professional association. I was spending nearly 15-20 hours each week just keeping up with my duties. It was affecting my work, my family life, and my health. So, I had to cut back a bit and become more selective in the roles I took on. This balance helped me to do a better job in each area of my life.
There is a common meditation practice called “Loving Kindness” which encourages us to both receive and give compassion. As someone who has a pretty active cynicism gland, this meditation is a wonderful reminder of the importance of compassion. In every situation, a compassionate attitude will give us more success and add substance to our relationships. Whether we’re opening a door for someone, saying “thank you” for a kind gesture, or just offering a smile to a stranger, kindness born out of compassion connects our hearts to others. Whenever I remind myself to consider what someone else might be experiencing, I always feel kinder towards them.
A few days ago, I mentioned to a women tending a hotel buffet that the sausage gravy was really good. And as a southerner, I told her that I know my sausage gravy. Her face lit up as if I had given her a great gift. She worked hard on her buffet items and was grateful that someone noticed.
We live in a world where negativity and aggression get the most attention. We can turn that around with a kind word and a generous spirit. Instead of “give me the salt,” perhaps we can say, “please pass the salt…and thank you.”
As the author of Do it Well. Make it Fun., I chose excellence as the foundation of my book. If we seek excellence in everything we do, we create a platform of integrity on which to build our success. But we may not always know what we need to do to achieve excellence.
When I took a motorcycle safety course in 2001, I assumed that I knew everything about riding a motorcycle because I had owned one in college. And since a motorcycle only has two wheels, I couldn’t imagine that there was that much to learn. Once I got into the class however, I discovered there were things I didn’t know I didn’t know. The class opened my eyes to my knowledge deficits.
Unless someone gives us feedback or points out our mistakes, we will never discover where we need to improve on the road to excellence. When I worked as the Director of Quality Service at Hospice of Northern Virginia, we used a 360-degree performance evaluation process. In other words, for my yearly review, I was evaluated by my boss, my peers, and the people I supervised. It was certainly an unnerving process but it was one of the most helpful ways to find out my strengths and where I needed to improve. In all areas of our lives, if we strive to determine where we need to get better as employees, parents, partners, neighbors, etc., then we really can enhance the days of our lives…like salt through the hourglass (a few of you will know that obscure reference!)
When I was offered my first management job, I realized that two of the people I would be supervising were my peers from a previous job. In order to manage the department effectively, I needed to make sure I treated them fairly and that the other employees felt they were also being treated fairly. So, we talked about it before I took the job and agreed we could make it work. However, if my other staff had felt that I favored my former colleagues, my ability to supervise would have been compromised.
The concept of justice is based on fairness. None of us wants to be treated unfairly. We don’t want someone else to get a discount at the store when we’re not eligible. We want our children to get the same opportunities as other children. And we don’t like it when people who have more seem to get away with even more. Fairness is the basis for effective organizations and relationships. Every time we make a decision that affects other people, we might ask ourselves, “Is this fair to everyone involved?” It’s an ideal embraced by Rotary International and a good principle for the rest of us. When someone treats us fairly, we believe that they really are worth their salt.
Hopefully, these principles will help you think about your own principles and how you can “walk the talk” in your own life. Please know that my own process of living my principles is a work in progress. But isn’t that what life is all about? We’re on the journey just trying to make the next day a little better…or saltier!
For the next article, we’ll tackle the remaining items on my list of life principles. Stay tuned.