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Shined Shoes Save Lives

General H. Norman Schwarzkopf

General H. Norman Schwarzkopf

I recently posted an ad on Craigslist for an open paralegal position at my law office.  One of the stipulations of the ad was that an applicant was required to mail or email a resume along with a cover letter.

After the ad was posted, I received several cover letters and resumes.  One of the resumes was from an individual I would have been willing to consider for the position, but the cover letter had a word missing from one sentence and a misspelled word in another sentence.  Although it is a common occurrence for me to receive letters and resumes with typographical errors, the person who wrote this particular letter emphasized the fact that she was proficient at writing and proofreading.

After I read the letter, I showed it to my administrative assistant and said, “Look at this letter.  You would think that a person who claims that her skills include writing and proofreading would make sure that there were no errors in her cover letter.”  I then placed the letter and resume with the others that I had rejected.

You’ve probably heard of H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr., the American general who led an international army of more than 750,000 troops to victory in 1991, by forcing the Iraqi army out of Kuwait.  Schwarzkopf retired shortly after his victory in Kuwait.  He was later hired to be a featured speaker at “Success” events that were organized in large cities throughout the United States.

In the speech that Schwarzkopf gave at many of the Success events, he explained how he trained his soldiers.  He said that he trained them to pay strict attention to everything they did, regardless of how menial or insignificant the task.  He had a saying that he drilled into their heads: “Shined shoes save lives.”

It was Schwarzkopf’s belief that if his soldiers were inattentive or careless about small or mundane tasks, they would be inattentive or careless about more important tasks, such as preparing for and responding to attacks by the enemy.  A moment of inattention or carelessness by one of his soldiers could result in the death of a fellow soldier.

By focusing on performing even the smallest tasks with precision (such as shining shoes), a soldier would develop the habits and discipline that were necessary to perform more significant tasks with precision (such as planning for and being properly prepared for battle).

I thought of General Schwarzkopf’s admonition that shined shoes save lives when I read the cover letter with the two errors.  Despite the fact that the woman appeared to have the right qualifications for the job, her failure to pay attention to minor details precluded me from contacting her for an interview.  Why was she so careless about applying for a job that could have offered her a significant opportunity to advance her career?

After I opened my law practice in 1983, I established relationships with a handful of lawyers who paid me on an hourly basis to do research and writing for them.  One of the lawyers was extremely particular about the quality of work I did for him.  On two different occasions when he didn’t think I lived up to his expectations, after telling me why my work did not meet his standards, he said, “If you didn’t have time to do it right the first time, how are you going to have time to do it right the second time?”

If I were to interview the woman who sent me the cover letter with the errors, I could justifiably ask her the same question.

Although a majority of the cover letters and resumes I receive do not have any typographical errors, most of them are from people who appear to be indifferent about establishing long-term relationships with their employers — relationships that are built on loyalty, trust, and excellence.  Their resumes show that they are accustomed to jumping around from job to job, like fleas on a dog.

It’s not uncommon for me to see in a resume that a person has held five or six different full-time jobs over the past 10 years, with a pattern of changing jobs every 18 to 24 months.  Why would I hire someone whom I know is going to quit within two years — considering the time it takes for me to train a person to be competent in performing his or her job?

Most candidates appear to be indifferent about improving themselves or reaching their full potential.  They have no desire to better themselves.  They simply want to put in their time and go home.

Unfortunately, a majority of Catholics have the same attitude about their faith that a lot of people have about working for an employer.  Although they may attend Mass on Sundays and engage in other routine Catholic activities, they have no interest in challenging themselves to develop a greater love, knowledge, and understanding of God and the Catholic faith.

Our Lord warned us about being “lukewarm” when He said, “But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold, nor hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth.”  (Rev. 3:16)

When we leave this Earth and pass into eternity, God Almighty is not going to ask the question, “If you didn’t have time to do it right the first time, how are you going to have time to do it right the second time?”  There’s not going to be a second time for any of us.  The time we have on this Earth to prove that we love God is our only chance.

If we really were serious about our faith, we would focus on seeing God in everything we do, regardless of how menial or insignificant the task.  By focusing on performing even the smallest task with a goal of furthering the Kingdom of God on Earth, we would develop the habits and discipline that are necessary to perform more significant tasks to further His Kingdom on Earth.

General Schwarzkopf was probably right.  I would expect that the shined shoes of his soldiers ultimately did save the lives of their fellow soldiers.  As Catholics, we need to incorporate Schwarzkopf’s philosophy into our own lives.  But first, we need to change his motto from “Shined shoes save lives,” to “Diligent prayer and works of mercy save souls.”

Now get busy and start saving some souls.

 

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2 Responses to “Shined Shoes Save Lives”

  1. Sister Roberta Houlihan, CSJ Says:

    Dear Harry and Georgette –
    Another gem!! Lots of jokes are floating around in which misspelled words or jumbled sentences are written on purpose. There is merit to laughter, but sometimes this type of humor can be harmful if taken so lightly that it flows onto one’s personal written work! Once again, it’s a matter of being careful.
    I love how you apply each of your stories/examples to the living out of our Faith!!! {I had a wonderful 7 day retreat last week, directed by Sister Marilyn, CSJ. It more than made up for my not having had one last year!!!) Love, Sister Roberta

  2. Harry Says:

    Sister Roberta – Glad you were able to attend the retreat. I would really benefit from one right now. Please pray that I can squeeze one in this year. Take care. Harry

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