A Lesson in Dignity

My parents have taught me many lessons over the years.   I joke with them that I’m amazed how wise they’ve become as I’ve gotten older.   But as I get older, I’ve noticed that those lessons sometimes come when I least expect them – and last week was no different.

Last week, my Dad called.  Our phone conversation started off pretty normal.  After making sure everything was going well with me, he let me in on some news.

My Dad informed me that his company was downsizing and he had just been laid off from work.

I must admit – a whole host of emotions occur when someone close gives you news like this.  I ran the gamut and experienced everything from shock to concern to anger.

But what happened next was truly a life lesson in dignity.

As he spoke, I took note of several things.

My Dad was calm.  As I think about it, I wonder if I’d be that calm if I was just let go from my job.  He was very composed and his voice was soothing and relaxed.

My Dad was not angry.  He said that he didn’t blame anyone for the situation.  He didn’t take it personally.  It just was what it was.  He explained the company’s situation, economy, challenges and in the end that they (the company) had to make a decision.

My Dad was at peace with the situation.  He informed me that things happen for a reason, and clearly there was a reason for this to happen.  My Dad is a man of strong faith and knows that God has a greater plan for his life.

My Dad is close, but not quite ready to retire – he told me that he was going to search for the opportunity in the situation.  And that he was going to take advantage of it to make sure his next step better positions them [my parents] for the next chapter in their life.

My Dad took the high road.  Probably one of the most impacting parts of his story was when he told me about his boss having to terminate his employment.  He said that while he had known his boss for a good many years and they were friends, he had recently been restructured and his boss had only been his boss for about a week.

His boss and an HR rep sat my Dad down that afternoon.  My Dad already knew what was coming.  He said his boss was clearly upset by the situation and could barely talk.  When he did speak, he spoke quietly.  Then my Dad did something very cool.  He reassured his boss and told him it was okay.  He told him that he knew it wasn’t his fault.  In essence, he gave his boss permission to carry out his duty.

Knowing my Dad, I can mentally picture him sitting there with his employers.  His head held high – a compassionate look on his face – with a half-grin telling the weary messenger – “It’s okay.  Go ahead.”

My Dad left his company with dignity.  He did it with no shame or embarrassment.  He did it with the satisfaction of knowing he had contributed greatly to his organization. He did it with poise and pride.  He did it like I’d expect of a great man.

And, in a son’s eyes, my Dad is a great man.  He’s taught me much.  And I love him dearly.

While this is a very personal story, I wanted to share because there were several lessons above about how to think and act when life knocks you down.

One of the most valuable lessons is one my parents taught me growing up:  You can’t always control what happens to you, but you can control how you react.

I have taught and re-taught that lesson to many (and reminded myself of it many times).  To see it in practice by the one who taught it to me in such an extreme circumstance is absolutely inspiring.

The next time, I find myself face to face with a difficult dilemma – I will remember this story.  I will remember my Dad.

How will you react when faced with a difficult challenge?

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