February 11, 2017 – Hero or Nero?


“Our soul is sometimes a king, and sometimes a tyrant. A king, by attending to what is honorable, protects the good health of the body in its care, and gives it no base or sordid command. But an uncontrolled, desire-fueled, over-indulged soul is turned from a king into that most feared and detested thing – a tyrant.” – Seneca, Moral Letters, 114.24

My physical body continues to demand more than my mind is capable of delivering. Today was the 5th Annual City Wide Citrus Harvest in Jacksonville, FL. This even consists of the Society of St. Andrew and Feeding Northeast Florida visiting homes throughout the city in an effort to salvage citrus that would otherwise go unpicked. I was a site coordinator for the 4th time (we have a total of five sites) in the five years of the event’s existence. My bout with bronchitis, showing progress towards victory but still far from over, saw me in a condition that left me disappointed in how I managed the volunteers. Six homes went untouched. But thanks to my wife, and the basic goodness of those who volunteered, we still managed to glean an estimated 26,000 lbs of citrus. The actual figure will be released in the coming weeks.

What does this have to do with Seneca’s quote about the difference between a king and a tyrant?

I needed to be a site by 7:15 am to begin setting up my table, chairs, forms to be filled out, tools for picking and the necessary act of greeting volunteers. I was operating on maybe 3 hours of sleep. I was coughing. My body was aching. I haven’t had an appetite in days so my blood sugar was far too low for the activity required over the next 4 hours.

There were around 100 people looking up at me when, at 8:15 am, I began to explain what this effort entails. That what we pick will feed people across seven counties. That every year the volunteer count goes up, the weight in citrus picked goes up and we inevitably pick up more houses for next year’s event. There are families, church groups, business and single individuals who participate, and it is my job to take all the data supplied to me and create temporary communities of people. These communities will drive to homes and pick fruit. At my site we had 54 homes to visit before the end of the day, designated as noon.

This morning I had to look beyond my own malaise and represent the charitable organizations who entrusted me to be their spokesperson. The volunteers didn’t want to see some guy complaining about not feeling well. Telling them that he’s sorry it wasn’t be run better, but he’s doing the best he can. I needed their help. I needed to be a good leader. This wasn’t about me, or how I felt.

Hero or Nero are extremes. We need simply be good for the sake of things other than ourselves. Be a thoughtful friend, co-worker, spouse, student, consumer or neighbor. Are we edifying our community? Is our focus on justice and fairness, or are we simply looking to get what we want? Are we demanding things from others that, if thrust upon us, we’d recoil?

We should seek the best from ourselves, and others. We should work to be the leader we look for in others.

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