By Dhananjaya Premawardena
When you have a group of history majors come together, a lot of things can happen. Sometimes, you can all work together to get something done, and sometimes it can get pretty messy. For the past year, I have been involved in the leadership of the History Club at U of M. We frequently invited professors to talk to us about their research, and we were able to learn about history outside of our own classrooms. Most of the meetings were pretty good, but I had some ideas of my own that I wanted to bring up.
At the end of the last semester, I wanted to suggest some changes to the History Club, and so I drafted a fairly small document of some suggestions that I had for some new events and some ways that our organization could be a bit more organized. What I had not realized was that people really did not want me to do that. At the last meeting at the end of the semester, I got the rude awakening from my peers. Instead of choosing to work with me, a couple of other leaders were not only hesitant to listen to me, they outrightly told me they would refuse to help me. Rather, I was accused of being a tyrant and taking over the History Club.
I was accused of being a tyrant and taking over the History Club.
Furthermore, I was accused of not doing enough to help increase attendance and not doing my job on the History Club. Even though I had visited dozens of history courses to talk about History Club and organized field trips and worked with other organizations to get their people to attend our events, that was not enough. I wanted them to bring their ideas, and I did not mind having my ideas questioned, but being accused of taking over the History Club? I was a bit indignant. No, I was very indignant, and I did not like being questioned.
I went home and stewed and then I plotted my revenge. Was I being petty? Yes! Did I know that I was being petty? Yes! And yet I still wanted them to feel bad about what they did to me. I could not help but fume and feel self-righteously indignant, and I was angry. However, it was not enough for me to get an apology from them; I wanted to prove them wrong and show that my ideas were better than theirs. I was right, they were wrong. They would just have to deal with that.
I was right, they were wrong.
So when this year started I had made some plans of how to make History Club better. I was waiting to tell those naysayers about these plans, and I imagined that they would be so brilliant that they would immediately be in shock and awe. Our first leadership meeting of the year saw only about half of our members make it to the meeting. The naysayers were not there. Not only that, they had quit. So not only could I not make my point that my ideas were going to be better than theirs, now more of the responsibility of making sure the club ran well went to me. Though I was able to suggest my ideas to the rest of the group, I began to feel something other than indignation: guilt.
……now more of the responsibility of making sure the club ran well went to me.
At one point, I had known all of the people who had left. I had had classes with them, or I used to talk to them. They were people I respected, but at some point, I simply was more concerned about putting my ideas out there than about trying to get new ideas from people. A good leader has to ask other people how they would like to be involved not just simply dictate those ideas. I felt like I had screwed up. This is my golden bear claw (or as a history buff, I would say my golden crown) I received more hours of work on top of my already busy schedule and I have lost those people and for what? Just so that I could see some of my ideas become reality? These are not events that would get thousands of people these are events for maybe twenty to forty people at most. Yet, my pride got the better of me and rather than seeking to work as a servant and do my duty, I decided to be prideful and demanding, and I lost.
Yet, my pride got the better of me and rather than seeking to work as a servant and do my duty, I decided to be prideful and demanding, and I lost.
In another way, I was doing a disservice to God and to those who were with my in the History Club. The other leaders now have to bear greater responsibility since the others have left. Instead of feeling stronger, I felt more tired and exhausted by the constant in-fighting. How had I not learned anything from the history lessons I knew? Julius Caesar sought to become dictator for life and died five years after doing so. Napoleon conquered most of Europe only to end up spending his last years alone on an island in the Pacific Ocean. Now, with Napoleon and Caesar hanging over my shoulder, I seemed ready to be able to give up. How could I be bringing glory to God with my actions when so many people were becoming sad and leaving our organization? Why should I have been prideful about what I did when I should have made this an opportunity to bring enjoyment to other people?
Instead of serving myself, I should really have been thinking about how to help our members. Perhaps, the old members will come back to History Club, and maybe I will be able to invite new people to join and create new opportunities with people to explore history. Instead of working to see my ideas come to fruition, I can work with other members to become inspired to see history in a different way. As Frederick the Great of Prussia said, “a crown is just a hat that lets the rain in,” and so too is a leadership position if it becomes all about me. With my drenched head hanging low, now I am ready to serve willingly and unworthily.
With my drenched head hanging low, now I am ready to serve willingly and unworthily.