Sunday, April 24, 2016

A Twist to the Test

Walt Bettinger, CEO of Charles Schwab Corporation, shared in a recent New York Times article (February 7, 2016) about an experience he had in college. He was about to take the final for his business strategy class. Striving to maintain his perfect 4.0, he spent hours preparing for this last exam, memorizing formulas to do calculations for case studies.

He describes what happened:

          "The teacher handed out the final exam, and it was on one piece of paper, which really surprised me because I figured it would be longer than that. Once everyone had their paper, he said, 'Go ahead and turn it over,' Both sides were blank.

          And the professor said, 'I've taught you everything I can teach you about business in the last ten weeks, but the most important message, the most important question, is this: 'What is the name of the lady who cleans this building?'"

Bettinger continues. "And that had a powerful impact. It was the only test I ever failed, and I got the "B" I deserved. Her name was Dottie. I'd seen her before, but I'd never taken the time to ask her name. I've tried to know every Dottie I've worked with ever since."

I copied this article and sent it to my oldest daughter, Sarah, who is an art teacher in Denver. She is about to celebrate fifteen years of teaching. I wanted her to read this story because she naturally follows the lessons Walt Bettinger's professor tried to teach his class. Throughout her fifteen years, she has befriended every custodian in the schools where she worked. She not only values their contribution of cleaning her room each day and emptying the trash, but she spends time talking to them, asking about their families, honoring them as people.

Sarah often bakes a batch of chocolate chip cookies to take to the custodians when they have gone the extra mile to clean a particularly messy art room or offers compassion for a personal struggle they are experiencing.

"The custodians are my best friends," I've heard her say a few times, "because they are willing to take time to do tasks that make my job easier."

When I asked what she thought of the New York Times article, she replied, "I showed it to the custodian."

What if one day we went to church and when it came time for the sermon, everyone in the congregation received a blank sheet of paper. What if the pastor started the sermon by saying, "You have a blank sheet of paper. Write the name of the custodians at this church, at your workplace or your gym. Or write the name of your mailperson or garbage collector or other people who make your day easier, assisting in some way that you take for granted."

What if you gave yourself the assignment right now?

If you have no name on the paper, make it your mission this week to introduce yourself to these people and express your gratitude to them for their service.

Prayer: Loving God, you surround us with people who help us each day, but we have no idea their name or circumstance. Help us show an interest in them like you continuously do with us, and show  us ways to extend love and gratitude. Amen.


  1. Yes, this is good advice. I shall do this very thing, seeking to know the names of everyone who is in a less prominent role from society's perspective (but heavens, how would we do without them?). Reminds me of Jesus' flipping the value of people: "The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."

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