ValueSpeak
A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker

DIGNITY, NO MATTER WHAT

Wendell has a lot of clout.

This is partly because he has a lot of talent and is imminently qualified in his professional field.  He’s been doing what he does for a long time and he’s good at it.  Extraordinarily good.

But beyond his skill and ability, Wendell is a good person.  He is kind and gentle and impeccably honest.  He always greets you with a warm handshake, a smile and a thoughtful word or two.  And somehow, after just speaking with him for a moment, you feel good.  Ask anyone.

Or almost anyone.

Not long ago I attended a public meeting at which one person took advantage of an open microphone to attack Wendell personally and professionally.  He impugned Wendell’s character.  He assailed his honor.  He questioned his professionalism.  It was brutal and ugly and clearly tainted with vitriolic personal opinion, but it was a public meeting and Wendell is a public servant, so the man was free to speak his mind.

As one who knows and respects Wendell, it was hard to sit there and listen to this tirade.  I squirmed uncomfortably in my seat as I listened to accusation after accusation.  I had just about reached the point where I was ready to rise and rebuke the speaker – or to at least say something nice about my friend – when I glanced at Wendell.  He was sitting in his appointed place calmly, his eyes focused on the speaker, an unruffled expression on his face.  If I didn’t know better I would have thought Wendell was listening to a rhapsody – not a rant.

I was so taken by Wendell’s evident serenity that I found myself watching him more and listening to the ongoing invective less.  During the course of the harangue Wendell’s expression and deportment didn’t change – no rolled eyes, no exasperated gasps, no bemused chuckles, no furious scribbling of notes and responses.   Rather, he was the picture of dignity and confidence.  Heck, I didn’t even see any perspiration on his forehead.

I, on the other hand, was sweating out the entire lecture, anxious for a chance to respond.

Or at least to roll my eyes and chuckle bemusedly.

When at last the speaker finished and sat down I fully expected Wendell to take the podium to defend himself.  That seemed to me to be the natural, logical thing for him to do.  I think others in the room had the same expectation because there were a few moments of anticipatory silence, with all eyes focused squarely on Wendell.

But Wendell seemed oblivious to the attention.  He casually jotted a couple of notes, sat back in his chair and looked toward the official who was conducing the meeting, ready to move on to the next item on the agenda.

Which is just what happened.

After the meeting I tried to speak to Wendell, but as usual he was busy doing all of that skillful, professional stuff he has done so well for so long.  I watched for a moment as he interacted with others kindly, gently, honestly, warmly.  And suddenly I understood dignity – what it is, and what it isn’t.  It is calm, not confrontational.  It is confident, not defensive.  It is strong, not belligerent.  It is peaceful, not quarrelsome.

And when you have it, it gives you clout.

No matter what anyone else says.

# # #

— © Joseph Walker

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