Spirituality for Today – May 2010 – Volume 14, Issue 10

The Flying Salami

By Rev. Raymond Petrucci

A convenient memory has expunged the nature of my offense, but something I said or did aroused the ire in my mother's otherwise amiable and gentle nature. Whether my misstep was one of an early teenage protestation or of adopting an indifferent attitude toward some important matter, it compelled my dear mother to throw a two-foot Genoa salami across the room in my direction. I must have judged my wrongdoing to be a mere misdemeanor or saw my mother's act as rather amusing, because, rather than expressing instant remorse, I stoked the fire by requesting that next she throw me some mustard. Dumb! I, however, must have learned from my transgression because such an incident was never repeated.

A photo of a stick of salami with wings

Among the lessons taught by that decades old occurrence is to be attuned to the significance of human interaction. Throughout the day we travel past innumerable inanimate objects showing them little or no notice. But our encounters with our fellow human beings are neither invisible nor meaningless. Strangers passing by usually do not provoke much response unless their appearance or demeanor causes you to feel uneasy or threatened. Contrarily, the approach of a family member, a friend, or a colleague ignites a wide set of emotional expectations. What tends to be overlooked in human nature is the wish or, perhaps, the assumption of a level of sensitivity in every instance of human interplay; the awareness that each life has an impact on other lives. One's grasp of this sublime reality and its beneficial consequences may be loosened, sadly, by the various demands and distractions of modern living. Even worse, the very mores of a society may advance the desirability of neutralizing human beings into "objects" for the purpose of gain or of fulfilling a need. In this scenario, manipulation, deceit, cunning, coercion, force, and intimidation are neither condemned nor even questioned. The promotion of Christian virtue is scorned. Human interaction becomes an exercise in psychological darkness.

Imagine, if you would, a social order instilled with the highest aims of service to God and to humankind; a culture that accords celebrity status to those who lived the Golden Rule most authentically. The idea should not be interred in a graveyard for exalted thoughts. Like a beautiful flower blooming in the desert, these lofty standards can be seen here and there in a particular person or a certain organization. In a greater or a lesser degree, it is more common than you think.

I gave a talk at Harvard Business School on how our focus on human beings had enabled Vanguard to become what at Harvard is called a 'service breakthrough company.' I challenged the students to find the term human beings in any book they had read on corporate strategy. As far as I know, none could meet the challenge. But 'human beingness' has been one of the keys to our development. How often I have said, over these long years, that those whom we serve must be treated as 'honest-to-God, down-to-earth human beings, each with their individual hopes and fears, and financial goals.' This credo says nothing about aggregate billions of dollars of assets; nor millions of investors; nor, Lord forbid, market share; nor even about corporate strategy; nor the need for financial controls, technological support, and focused marketing, although all of them are, to one degree or another, necessary. They are secondary to our primary goal: to serve, to the best of our ability, the human beings who are our clients. To serve them with candor, , with integrity, and with fair dealing. To be the stewards of the assets they have entrusted to us. To treat them as we would like the stewards of our own money to treat us. This mission is not very complicated, but anyone who preaches it had better live it, every single day.

John C. Bogel
Founder and former Chief Executive of the Vanguard Group, Inc.

How wonderful it would be if in business the norm would reflect the ethic of honesty and service, as well as the support of those espousing these practices, if in personal relationships the norm would be respect for the intrinsic, God-given worth and dignity of a person motivated and oversaw human actions, and if in marriage and families the norm would be a mutual love for one another and a nurturing of the individual member's sense of responsibility for the spiritual and physical well being of the whole. Everyone wants these things. Everyone can contribute to making them exist. Sometimes all we need is to be jarred into remembering. So, if on the horizon, you should happen to spot an incoming projectile in the form of a spicy, cigar-shaped comestible, examine closely the quality of the humanity in your thoughts and deeds.