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Radhanath Swami spiritual leader

Date Added: Sep 30, 2011
Author: Radhanath Swami
Category: Society and Culture: Religion and Spirituality: Spiritualism

    When little things make a big difference

    Two striking contrasts in sporting history reveal a critical leadership lesson:

    Ben Johnson had created a sensation. He bagged the coveted 100 meter gold medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, having achieved the feat in 9.79 seconds. Cameras flashed on the fastest man on the planet; he was now the most sought after and a legendary figure.

    Few hours later the world sat stunned to discover that celebrity Ben had been doping; he was disgracefully stripped off the medal, and banned from athletics. Overnight he was reduced from a hero to a villain. Contrasting Ben is Muhammad Ali who became an Olympic champion, despite growing up facing racial discrimination. Against all odds, he became an overnight hero with his gold medal at the 1960 Olympics, and in 1999, the BBC declared Muhammad Ali to be the ‘sportsman of the century’.

    It’s not an ‘overnight’ affair

    While noting the dramatic rise or fall of these two men, we need to carefully observe the word ‘overnight’. Does one become a hero or a villain overnight? Muhammad Ali slogged for months; his arduous workouts and spending many hours daily in the gym had an effect that night; he was crowned the world champion that night, but he earned it after years of struggle against prejudice.

    Similarly Ben Johnson wasn’t a disgrace that night; his long deception got exposed one day. He confessed later that he had been doping for long; the clandestine cheating wasn’t known to the world until that night. Therefore often in life it isn’t an overnight affair. Its years of neglecting or paying attention to the little things that pay off one night. One night the world recognizes you as a hero or a villain but a lifetime would have been spent on climbing the ladder of success or digging your own grave.

    Spiritual leader works on principles

    We are so often attracted by National crusaders and heroes, sports stars, and charismatic leaders. But have we ever wondered about the rigorous discipline, determined efforts and most importantly the small but critical things that these leaders have given importance to for years? A spiritual leader (a leader who’s guided by spiritual principles) recognizes that real success in life is not determined by how many fans adore you, or how many billions of dollars you amass; it’s more to do with how we lead our lives in congruence with sacred universal principles. An unassuming housewife, a principled school teacher or a sacrificing mother can have a deeper impact on our lives. They are indeed successful leaders for they work on small but critical principles like sacrifice, charity, humility, service and discipline, day in and day out. And as a result such men and women leave a more lasting influence on our consciousness. Some of them may be glorified as super stars by the media but that’s secondary; the primary greatness of a leader is in his or her adherence to timeless principles. One such principle is to give importance to apparently small but sublime factors.

    Little things can have tremendous consequences

    A friend shared an important lesson he learnt in life. He is the Head of department of our youth outreach services; his day is packed with many duties and appointments. Often he’d be careless about being on time; he’d be late for meetings, but thought that wasn’t a big issue. His team members fumed but didn’t have the courage to open up. What really irked them was his casual approach to the issue. On a couple of occasions when they mentioned to him about his delays, he was apologetic but didn’t break the habit. He is definitely good at heart but his goodness got clouded by this ‘small’ irritable nature. Over a period of time the perceptions about him that floated in the monastery got serious; ‘he doesn’t respect me and my time’; ‘he’s rude and inconsiderate’; ‘I can’t trust him’. As I heard these remarks, I wondered if he was actually rude, untrustworthy, disrespectful etc. I realized he isn’t necessarily like that but his little neglect was costing him his reputation. I reflected, “Being late once or twice may be unavoidable, but being late consistently makes you unreliable.” Here was a talented and competent manager, but sent negative vibes and made others uncomfortable to be around him; people instinctively disliked him. I also realized that although perceptions may be far off from reality, perceptions are reality when it comes to relationships. It’s difficult to convince a person to like or trust someone based on facts and figures. Perceptions get embedded in the consciousness over a period of time when people notice your adherence to little but significant behavioural patterns or habits.

    One day he came up to me and confessed his disappointment with the ashram residents; he felt they don’t appreciate him or his tireless services. He felt he lacked a real friend. As I heard him, the cause of his plight—neglecting little things that make a big difference—became clearer to me. Fortunately he was humble and open minded to accept my candid observations which might have led to his being alienated from the ashram. He’s now begun working on this aspect of his personality and perceiving tangible results. Both of us recently concurred, ‘Being on time may be a small thing, but it can have a big difference in our lives’. I recollected the words of Bruce Barton, the American author and Republican, “sometimes when I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things, I am tempted to think there are no little things.”

    A little act of taking lunch together

    Radhanath Swami once emphasised to the monks in our monastery, the need to take lunch together daily. My instinctive unspoken response was, ‘what’s the big deal? How does it really matter? We’ve so many things to do’; the manager within me got the better of my human feelings. It didn’t make so much sense then but I complied with the advice because I trusted him and moreover he appealed, “even if you aren’t convinced about this little thing about taking lunch together, please do it only because I am saying.” That day was also his birthday, and he smilingly quipped, “actually this is the best birthday gift you can give me.” Now six years later I realize the profound effect this little act has made on the lives of our ashram residents. An unspoken message of love and family spirit is conveyed when the members come together and take food. These things are subtle but strong enough for us to perceive; trust and camaraderie get deeply rooted when we informally come together; I can now honestly confess that I eagerly look forward for the lunch hour or our informal get together in the monastery, for it gives me the feeling of close bonding with the other members.

    I now soberly muse over Gary Eby’s striking observation, “termites are little but given time, they can eat an entire house. A match is a little thing but it can burn and destroy an entire forest. The tongue is a little thing but life and death are in the power of the tongue.” Years of paying attention to little things certainly pays off one day.

    A spiritual leader works hard on his or her spiritual discipline and the building of a strong character. He or she does this with small but significant steps daily. It may be a little thing—for example going that extra mile and giving more than expected—but it makes a big difference… to you and the world.

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