It’s Not My Table
As we entered 2019, or were dragged kicking and screaming into it, the new year is always a time for reflection. For some, it’s about New Year’s resolutions, of which few are ever kept. January exercise equipment sales equals August garage sales. For others, the new year is a new beginning for adventure and opportunity. For all of us, it’s a new opportunity to make a difference.
The origin of the expression, “It’s not my table”, is anecdotal in nature. I personally became aware of it as a teenager. Those awkward situations when trying to get the attention of a diner server, who announced, “Sorry, it’s not my table”. I think we can all relate to the frustration that results, the sense that, at that moment, we just didn’t matter. What an empty feeling.
The true significance of the much broader attitude struck me when it came time for me, as a lay minister, to write and deliver my first sermon. I don’t remember the exact date, but I do remember being in my late teens. I remember how anxious I was as I put together my thoughts and faced the prospect of standing in front of hundreds of people who knew me and had watched me grow up. Would I be good enough? As I worked on the material, I came to the realization it wasn’t about me at all — what mattered was the message — how it would be received and if it would elicit change. I couldn’t be the judge of how well the message got through then, that was left to others. I do remember, as a naive young man, struggling to identify, understand and express the importance of finding an antidote for the “it’s not my table” syndrome. Even then I realized the attitude was not limited to overworked, stressed and under-paid servers. I knew we could all fall victims to taking the easy way out, and isolating ourselves from others and that which was going on in our communities.
Over fifty years have passed, yet today we still hear the expression not only in it’s original form, but in others like “it’s not my monkey, it’s not my circus”. The attitude behind it is all the same — not my problem — I’m not going to get involved, it’s someone else’s issue. We see powerful would-be-leaders deflect criticism by claiming it’s not their fault, it’s either that of their predecessor, or some other group or factors outside their control. We continue to see the evidence and sometimes catastrophic consequences of this kind of attitude. Leadership in government or business, is taking the opposite view, that indeed, the buck stops here — it is my table — others matter.
We can’t as individuals just sit back and expect things to change. On a personal basis we must step up and challenge ourselves to do the right thing, to measure up. The issues facing our world and communities today in many ways, have an expiration date. The most acknowledged one of course, is climate change. Human beings are dying today in natural disasters brought on by climate change. Bees, the natural pollination species that determines the continuation of our food supply, are dying by the millions. This is not an ostrich-head-in- the-sand moment. If we don’t do something now, the world as we know it will come to an end, and millions of human beings will die.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” - Charles DarwinThere is also the economic inequality in our communities, our nation and on a global level. There is much written about the one percent, the world elite that control the vast majority of the wealth. A recent (2016) study in the U.S. asked people what they thought the average global income was, in US dollars. The participants answered $20,000, TEN TIMES the actual income. Each country has it’s 1%, but on a global basis, an income of approximately $50,000 annually puts the vast majority of anyone reading this blog, in the global 1%. More than a third of the world’s population lives on less than $2 per day, not even the price of a Starbucks coffee. The fact is that 1% of the population has the same wealth as the remaining 99%.
Take a moment to digest what this means. If you own a car, rent or own a house or apartment, have a laptop, a smart phone, have a job of some kind, go out for dinner or a movie now and again and don’t hesitate to buy that low fat latte Grande, you, dear reader, are in that 1%. It may not feel that way at times as you look around and see others better off than you, but on a global basis, you have it made in comparison to the overwhelming majority. The sobering thought is that the only difference between you and me, and the starving millions, is our place of birth and “None of us got nothing to do with that” (Regina King in the movie “If Beale Street Could Talk”).
So this obviously appalling wealth inequity begs the question, is there any joy left in the world? Does it take wealth to be happy? In someways, it depends on who is asking the question doesn’t it? The happiness that comes from buying that new car, is far different from the happy relief derived from being able to feed your family, or provide medicine when your child gets sick. Wealth translates to economic power and for those less fortunate than us, without wealth, they feel powerless. It is no wonder that there are riots and unrest in much of the world as a result of wealth inequality.
There are other issues that need our attention and involvement, like the drug and opioid crisis. We can’t ignore this issue. At the current rates of use, thousands will needlessly die from overdoses every day. And for those that think that the drug issues are not economic ones, you are dead wrong. Drugs like opioids were and are driven by pharmaceutical companies who make enormous profits. Studies have shown that many of the communities in North America that have an inordinate ratio of drugs (opioids, heroin, meth) to population are in the poorest communities, struggling with industry and job losses, stress, anxiety and mental health issues. Of course the problem is exasperated by the criminal element who supply cheap synthetic drugs while making themselves richer.
Today the disconnect between individuals seems to be increasing with social media. We pretend that connecting on social media is a valid substitute for real connections face to face. It’s not. Hopes and prayers in response to social media personal and disaster stories just doesn’t cut it.
There are many other issues in our communities that we could discuss: education, healthcare, racism, gun violence and others, but the biggest issue in my mind is — not when, but if — we as individuals, are going to stand up and do two things, not tomorrow but right now: accept our responsibility for action, to educate ourselves on issues and get involved, and hold our leaders accountable for their actions.
Yes, damn right — it IS your table and mine, and each and everyone of us, for everyone matters. We can be like the river, made up of millions upon millions of water droplets, and like that river, move mountains. It all starts, right now, with you and me.
About the Author: Lloyd Osler is a veteran, professional engineer, serial entrepreneur and business leader with heart. He has seized every opportunity to reinvent himself, resulting in several challenging, and exciting careers throughout 50 years in the military, advanced education, IT and health industries.
What a ride! And #notyetdone — he is exercising his right brain in pursuing his passion as a writer.
Lloyd relishes the opportunity to give back and has a long history of mentoring in education, business and community. Husband to one, father of four, papa to five, he is passionate about future generations and is a strong advocate of social issues such as mental health, gender diversity, and equality. He currently serves on the international Advisory Board of sitatthetable.org, promoting global gender mentoring and equality in business. He is also a co-founder at cormosaic.shop. Follow Lloyd on Twitter at @powerofpapa.
At various times in one's life, there comes a moment to evaluate where we are and where we want to be, who we are and what we want to become. Seize the moment and change. No time to waste. —Lloyd Osler