Manage Modesty

Photo: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / racorn

Two tree cutters were suspended in the tree outside my second-floor bathroom window one recent morning. They were hired by the city to trim branches and limbs along property lines to keep the debris away from power and phone wires.

While I was shaving, the window was open enough that I could hear them. They didn’t know that I was there, and I heard the following conversation:

“Man,” the one guy says, “you vote for that Obama?”

“Nah,” says the other. “I voted for Hillary.”

“I don’t think she’s run yet.”

“Yeah, she did. She’s so pretty, got those glasses like an old substitute teacher I once had.”

“Dude, that’s Sarah Palin.”

“Yeah, Palin! I voted for her.”

“No, you didn’t—she didn’t run either. If you voted for her, you voted Republican.”

“Well, I didn’t do that. My mom loved Kennedy—she’d kill me if I voted Republican.”

I peeked through the curtain to see who was actually speaking. He looked completely bewildered, and I thought, “If this is the look his face defaults to when his mind is idle, he’s lucky he hasn’t fallen out of that tree yet.”

I closed the window. Their saws came alive, and I finished shaving, had a quick shower, and left for work. En route, I had to stop for gas and pulled into the station at the end of my street. As luck would have it, the tree cutters were on break and visiting the same station to get their coffee. They were in their truck directly across from me. I said, “Hey, I saw you guys outside my bathroom window this morning!” They both laughed, and one leaned out the window and said that, from his vantage point in the tree, he could see that one of my gutters had failed and water was likely leaking directly into the roof line, probably sneaking along the interior rafter. I thanked him. Later that evening after work, I opened the crawl space and, indeed, smelled mildew. That weekend I fixed the gutter and caulked the entry point on the rafter, and within days, the interior area dried out. That cutter’s tip was a good one and probably saved me a great deal of money, time, and effort.

I also had to remind myself that I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, thinking I was so superior in overhearing the men’s conversation. I had decided they were too ignorant to understand or grasp the things I know so well.

But there are probably a lot of things they know that I don’t. That doesn’t make me ignorant, just unaware of some particular subject, just as they were about voting and the entire democratic process. But, wow, how quickly we all like to judge.

Superiority Complex

I began thinking about politicians who were recently brought to their knees because of corruption or lies. Isn’t it wild how one minute a politician can tell everyone else what to do, but the next morning he is insisting before a stack of microphones suggesting that people misunderstood what he meant to say? What a pile of rubbish. Of course, some of the blame goes to the rumor-ready media that seize on every public error in order to make anyone look as stupid as possible, but many times these comments that people try to “take back” simply should not have been uttered in the first place. Their superiority complex got in the way and they demanded that everybody should think the way they did.

The fact of the matter is no one knows everything, so no one has the right to tell people what to think or do. Yes, it is true there will always be people one is obliged to appease. Some employees have supervisors who are never happy with their work. Many parents look at a report card full of A’s and immediately ask, “What happened here with this one B?” And often an envious project manager who hates your ideas then winds up suggesting the very same things a few days later. While one may be forced to respect another’s authority in the workplace, but in a conversation between friends, words have equal weight. The playing field is level.

Take away the title, the reputation, and the aura of that person and imagine him a few years before. Why are people so curious about the “Before They Were Stars” stories? Because those stories reveal the person before the “magic” kicked in, before he was just another humble human being trying to make a living, raise a family, and pay for his house. There is some innate pleasure in watching someone who rises, forgets his roots, then falls, isn’t there? We feel a sense of justice.

Humble Pie

So what’s the trick? How does one succeed, yet remain humble? How does one rise and develop a following, yet retain a down-to-earth attitude?

It’s really very simple. When we start “reading our own press,” we begin to think that all that is said about us is true. Deep down, we know that is not always so. I’m not suggesting we defer credit with the obligatory, “I am nothing without my awesome staff members.” It’s more than just appearing humble; it’s about believing we really are the same as we always were. We shouldn’t start taking ourselves so seriously. Think about the great men and women of history (e.g., Abraham Lincoln, Ben Franklin, Martin Luther King, Jr., and John F. Kennedy). Every word they uttered wasn’t a pearl of wisdom. What they did, though, was perform really well in some historic moment (Gettysburg, inventions, “I have a dream,” “Ask not what your country can do for you,” etc.). After those moments, each one went home, had some dinner, and probably went to bed early. It had been a long day. Not one of those guys walked on water on the way home.

I was in Los Angeles once and saw famed film director Steven Spielberg driving a gorgeous Porsche into a convenient store parking lot. He went in and bought a giant Red Slurpie, which he was enjoying as he came out of the store. As I gawked at him, he smiled, got back in the Porsche and drove away. He was just a guy, being himself, who, just a few short years before, was a college kid who loved cherry soda.

Ron Ciancutti is the Director of Procurement for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at