It was meant to be a practical question yet led to an unintended realization. A dozen years ago, my publicist Nanette Noffsinger was preparing me for a media tour for the launch of my first book, Silent Alarm. As we sat in a crowded Nashville coffee shop, she said, “On radio, you will have more time to share thoughts from your book … but on television you will only have a couple of minutes to pointedly share three key takeaways.”
I immediately understood the mechanical and practical nature of Nanette’s advice. I just wasn’t prepared for her immediate bottom-line question that followed. She kindly asked, “So what are those three?” I immediately knew I was facing a bit of a problem.
The book was inherently designed to ignite your awareness … not to tell you what to think.
Knowing Nanette had already read the book, I intuitively sensed she wasn’t looking for the answer to her pointed question as much as she was looking to jolt an untapped realization within me. I also knew, as one of the former production managers of the NBC Today Show and NBC Nightly News, this wasn’t her first rodeo. Nor was it her first attempt at mining the yet-to-be-discovered golden nugget within a story.
My long pause, following Nanette’s question, gave space for the inquiry she really wanted to make. Silent Alarm, as a business novel, was subtitled as “A parable of hope for busy professionals.” It takes the reader on the journey with Jack, the main character. Jack’s journey traverses from sudden tragedy through vulnerable recovery and ultimately a re-discovery of life.
Nanette look directly at me and said, “I’m sure, as the author of this story, you likely have a favorite part. I’m not looking for that. I want to know what moment in this story spoke most to you.” She seemed like she was willing to sit as long as it took for me to quietly, reflectively and meaningfully mine that moment. The rough drafts of the manuscript began to come back to life. Memories of various writing sessions began to dissect the completed story in my mind.
More importantly in my heart and soul.
A specific scene eventually surfaced for me. I reached for the copy of Silent Alarm that had been sitting on the table between us. I flipped the pages back and forth searching for a particular moment well into Jack’s recovery. As I flipped back-and-forth, Nanette sat patiently sensing I was on the brink of my own discovery.
As I scanned page 164, I found what we both were looking for. Without any foreshadowing commentary, I simply began to read these words out loud:
Jack thought of all the workshops he had attended in his career: negotiating, customer service, team-building, handling tough clients, effective communications, and more. Jack thought it was strange that these workshops represented so many ideas and strategies for developing skills, but that no instructor had ever mentioned love.
He thought the best workshops could be presented in no more than fifteen minutes. He laughed as he imagined this scenario: “You want to give incredible customer service? Love them. You want to retain your employees? Love them. You want to build better relationships with tough people? Love them. You want to have effective teams? Love your teammates.”
Silence followed my narration.
I knew that Nanette had unmined what she was looking for and what I needed to discover from my own story. And we both knew it wasn’t narrative from your typical business book. Yet, it opened the discussion of how it was a key element of the solution to most every business challenge. More universally, every challenge.
One of the most familiar verses from the Bible is 1 Corinthians 13: There are three things that remain—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.
Because this verse and those preceding it are read at so many weddings, Paul’s powerful words to the Corinthians are familiar to those religious or not. Yet, Paul wasn’t at a wedding. He could have just as easily been speaking to a government, corporation, not-for-profit, university, high school, team meeting or a family. He was, ironically, speaking to the people of his church.
Paul sets a priority here. One is greater than the others … meaning the other two are accountable to the greatest one.
Paul wasn’t the first to make note that love leads.
If Nanette were getting Paul ready for a television interview, she would have likely pushed him to be prepared to concisely and practically share what such a broad concept looks like. Paul, of course, would have been readier than me to answer her question:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
I might add that Paul sums this up without any mention of “some.” Not sometimes, or in some places or with some people. It is everywhere advice for everyone in every situation.
We hear, feel and experience a lot of divisiveness in our country and world today. Likewise, we see it in corporations and amongst the teams that fill them. We see it in politics, and in general opinions and beliefs. And, of course, we see it in churches alike. Most personally, we see it amongst friends and family.
We can name an awful lot of symptoms of this divisiveness. Yet, until we get love right … on all sides … inside and out … we can expect divisiveness to remain. While short-term solutions are often critical in the context of each of these arenas, unless each and every one of us are working on love in every place, in every situation, with everyone, everyday … we will always be in a pattern of fixing symptoms. And that includes the lesser arenas of the three … faith and hope. This doesn’t diminish them … it informs them.
It would be 10 years later, I would find myself sitting again in silence with Nanette. This time, alone in my office, scrolling the plethora of comments posted on her Facebook page celebrating a life she had lost much too soon in her battle with cancer. As I read each comment, I found myself back in a crowded coffee shop in Nashville. I reflected on the silence that had fallen upon us when I read the passage from Silent Alarm. It was clear to me why she had resonated with my much-delayed response. That’s because it was precisely who she was and how she lived her life.
Love leads. If only we are willing to give it a try. And follow.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you see accountability to love as relevant today and always. Please share below … in a loving way!