Everyone has heard of Catholic guilt and Jewish guilt, but with absolutely no knowledge of what either of those things entail, I submit that Quaker guilt can’t be any less powerful.Quaker guilt surrounds the idea that we aren’t doing enough in the world. We aren’t doing it right. We need to make more of a positive impact on the world.
Over the years, a number of young people have said to me how unhappy they are with their jobs, primarily because they are embarrassed by it. It isn’t an ideal job, not because of the pay or responsibilities or because it doesn’t meet their passion. It’s a feeling I am well familiar with because I was once that kid. Heck, I was once that adult. And whenever one of those kids comes to me with that concern, I tell them this story.Many years ago, one of the people from our Quaker Meeting who had known me since I was wee, passed away. I’ll call him Jim. Jim McQuail. Just a random name. He was a guy I had a great deal of respect for, and after listening to the messages at his Quaker memorial service, I realized that my respect for him was dwarfed by the dozens of people who spoke that morning. I don’t remember a single message specifically, but every message was about some way Jim had helped that person in their time of need or struggle. Some of them were clients of Jim’s, hiring him as their CPA, and some were members of our Meeting, and others were just friends he’d made on his journey through life.
(I said earlier that I don’t remember any of the messages specifically, but come to think of it, I do remember one, from his wife Virginia. Ever the blunt speaker, either with a comment that could make you feel a mile high or as low as could be (having been on the receiving end of both examples), but always said in love and with a smile, Virginia listened to nearly an hour of adoring messages reflecting on what a wonderful person Jim was, when she rose to speak, all of us expecting Virginia to add another touching tale to those already proffered. She stood, paused, and said “Well, now, he wasn’t THAT great!” The place erupted.)Anyway, when the service was over, we headed over to the schoolhouse across the driveway for a luncheon reception where I found myself talking with a childhood friend, Jim’s nephew David. David asked me what I was doing with my life, and I told him about my accounting job and how, even though I generally liked my job, I felt unfulfilled, as I didn’t think I was making much of a positive impact on the world.
David listened to what I had to say and when I was done, he gave me a disappointed frown and said “Weren’t you just in Uncle Jim’s memorial service?” I told him that indeed, I had been. And he said the words I’ve never forgotten and have repeated so many times over the years:
“Then you heard all those people stand to talk about Uncle Jim. Did you hear any of them say anything about his job? About how he had saved them money on their taxes? About financial advice he gave them as their CPA? No. They all talked about the huge impact he had on their lives as a person, the help he offered, the personal advice he gave.”
Thanks, David. And thanks, Jim, for setting such a wonderful example.