Feb 5 2017

I’ve met a lot of folks who assume it’d be easy to work for the clergy. But I know of one person who would beg to differ. She was the chapel office manager when I was stationed at a small California Air Force base in the mid-1990s.

As the Non-commissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC), she ran our chapel business at a mile-a-minute, coordinating chaplain appointments, keeping our books and arranging our chapel for worship. She was a law-and-order manager, good with regulations and policies.

However, in the high-touch world of ministry, the chaplains found her too surly. She lacked the compassionate qualities required of someone dealing with tearful airmen who often wandered about our chaplain offices.

While we tried hard to keep our conflicts private, regrettably, our commander got wind of the stormy atmosphere and ordered something called a “climate assessment survey.”

Yes, that’s a bad thing.

The survey began with a visit from the base psychologist who interviewed each staff member involved.

He asked each of us to make a choice.

“Which do you think most important,” he asked. “To get the job done right? Or to get along with the people you are working with?”

You can guess which one Sgt. By-the-Book chose. She saw her job as top priority. And if you’ve been reading my heart-so-tender columns, you’ll know the get-along choice I made.

I won’t say who gave the best answer, but I do believe our staff squall gives insight into the strife threatening to tear this country asunder.

There are those of us who believe that getting along is the best way to make a peaceful world.

Opposite that, there are folks who believe peace is achieved through regulations and boundaries. They subscribe to the saying, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

OK, let’s talk fences. Imagine you have a storm-damaged fence that needs to be rebuilt. As you plan your repairs, a chatty new neighbor interrupts you for a visit.

People like me will welcome the gregarious neighbor in for coffee. We’re hoping the neighbor has a better way to design the fence and will help rebuild it. Maybe we even hope that we won’t have to deal with the fence today.

Like some of you, I think this is the best approach to fence building. That’s because I believe our task must always be people. Folks like me believe our job is best accomplished through the good relationships we maintain with our colleagues, neighbors and coworkers.

There are others, like my staff sergeant, who can’t find time for people until their job is thoroughly finished. They won’t have time for the sociable neighbor until their fence is stained and the brushes cleaned.

After all, if they don’t get their fence fixed, their dog will run off, burglars will have a nonstop path to their back door and the homeowners association will cite them. They will, one day, welcome the neighbor, but only by invitation.

So, back at the base, who was right? Me, the people-person? Or the task-oriented sergeant?

In the end our base commander discovered, as will our country’s leadership, that both sides can share the truth. Both can have ways in which they are right.

Our country had a leader who was a people-person. Now we have a president who is definitely task-oriented. If our new leadership can channel both qualities, then we will accomplish the tasks ahead.

The only thing I know for sure is that the job has to get done and we are the ones who must do it – together.
To see Norris’s latest book, “Thriving Beyond Surviving,” or to contact him about speaking, visit www.thechaplain.net. Or write him via P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, Calif., 95759. Twitter @chaplain or call (843) 608-9715.