The Dividends of Graciousness

My uncle forwarded me a link to a delightful and inspiring CNN article that tells the tale of the graciousness of one of the U.S. Army’s top officers, General Peter Chiarelli. Graciousness comes when you release self-concern, any sense of entitlement and sever any linkages that may exist in your heart and mind between position and self-worth.

No matter what your profession, no matter what your title, you have the potential to bring value and tidings of good cheer into the world. What follows is a portion of the article:

Graciousness can pay priceless dividends.

And it doesn’t cost a thing.

You may have heard the story about what happened between White House adviser Valerie Jarrett and Four-star Army Gen. Peter Chiarelli at a recent Washington dinner.

As reported by the website Daily Caller, Jarrett, a longtime Chicago friend of President Obama, was seated at the dinner when a general – later identified as Chiarelli, the No. 2-ranking general in the U.S. Army hierarchy, who was also a guest at the gathering – walked behind her. Chiarelli was in full dress uniform.

Jarrett, apparently only seeing Chiarelli’s striped uniform pants, thought he was a waiter. She asked him to get her a glass of wine.

She was said to be mortified as soon as she realized her mistake, and who wouldn’t be? But the instructive part of this tale is what Chiarelli did next.

Rather than take offense, or try to make Jarrett feel small for her blunder, the general, in good humor, went and poured her a glass of wine. It was evident that he wanted to defuse the awkward moment, and to let Jarrett know that she should not feel embarrassed.

As Chiarelli wrote in an e-mail to CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr:

“It was an honest mistake that ANYONE could have made. She was sitting, I was standing and walking behind her and all she saw were the two stripes of my pants which were almost identical to the waiter’s pants – REALLY. She apologized and will come to the house for dinner if a date can be worked out in March.”

Now, even if you’ve never met Chiarelli or followed him in the news, you have top be impressed with him after hearing that story. With his lofty rank in the military, he could have given Jarrett the deep freeze, reproached her and corrected her. But he poured her the wine – “It was only good fun”, he wrote to Star – and invited her to a meal at his home. He came out of the incident as a decent and magnanimous person.

Some might say, “well it’s easy for him to be gracious, he’s at the top of the heap” or “I would be gracious if I was the #2 in the Army” but true grace is not conditional, it is absolute. If you hope to be gracious when you become a “big shot,” you must practice where you are. There is no starting point better than the present when it comes to refinement of your expression.

You are wise to develop the habit of graciousness, when the stakes are low, when the pressure is not on you for an increase in either is likely to bring up deeper and less refined responses to your environment. Human nature is now full of impurities, mixed messages and ignoble defaults, but I believe that grace and courtesy can be cultivated if the right pattern of instruction and inspiration is provided.

If a man be gracious and courteous to strangers, it shows he is a citizen of the world.” ~ Francis Bacon

9 thoughts on “The Dividends of Graciousness

  1. strawberryfields

    When I was a young, men like this were called gallant. I still appreciate his largess and hope his commanders are take note of the example he has set for his subordinates and as it turns out the whole world! Great story to highlight.


  2. Colin

    I like what you said about the linkages between position and self worth. It seems like disconnecting those would free you to find your true self worth. What you do is not who you are. I really liked the story about the General. Thanks!


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