Photo: David Brooks

How Will You Be of Service to the Rest of the World? Reflections From the 2021 Leadership Florida Annual Meeting

Posted on November 17, 2021 by Beth Duda, director of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading
It was June when I first learned of the decision to hold the 2021 Leadership Florida Annual Meeting in person in November. At that time, COVID-19 numbers were sharply declining, and we hadn’t yet started to experience the strength of contagion and resulting sorrow of the Delta-variant. I saw the line-up of speakers for the event, including New York Times columnist David Brooks. I suspected this would be a great opportunity for connection and personal growth and decided to attend. I watched the Covid-19 positivity rate closely through the roller-coaster that was summer and several times feared the event would be cancelled or my own sense of safety would mean I would have to decline participation.

As November finally arrived, the COVID-19 positivity rate in Sarasota County was below 3%, and the same was true for the county I would be traveling to. I was fully vaccinated (and boosted). According to the Florida Department of Health, about 68% of my neighbors were fully vaccinated, and 80% had at least one shot, so I set off to meet up with more than 600 members of Leadership Florida. Leadership Florida is a statewide organization dedicated to bringing together emerging and existing leaders from across the state to challenge, prepare, and inspire them to build a better Florida.

Although the complete line-up of speakers was impressive, I have to admit I was most interested in what David Brooks would have to say. I had read his book, The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life, and found his observations about shifting from a self-centered life to an other-centered life compelling and wise. My expectation of the presentation by David Brooks was quite high, and I’m happy to say he didn’t disappoint.

One of the phrases he used, almost as a throw-away, struck me deeply. “How will you be of service to the rest of the world?” There was no grandiosity to the question, no expectation that the world would know of or acknowledge any one person’s contribution, just a simple belief that each one of us can make a significant difference in the world by attending to the relationships and interactions that are right in front of us each day.

By actively and consciously being present with and for others, we can rebuild local community one interaction at a time. I jotted down several notes during his presentation and found my head nodding in recognition and affirmation several times. He shared the “power of the valleys” in our lives.

Often, it is when we don’t succeed that we reap the benefit of some of our most significant life-lessons. He urged us to develop the ability to stay in the suffering long enough to see what it has to teach us while at the same time suggesting we stand ready to give a hand to each other when it is time to leave the valley.

Throughout the weekend, several speakers acknowledged that the work environment has experienced a significant shift as more and more workers are hungry for meaning and purpose in their work. David Brooks shared, “It’s not only workers, it is all of us. We all want to be seen. We all want to be heard. We all want to matter.” He urged us to see with understanding, affirm with insight, and, when necessary, critique with care. It is by valuing the dignity of each person and treating them as the creative artist of their own life that we can begin to heal from the spiritual, emotional, and relational crisis our country is experiencing.

Brooks urged us to “listen loudly” and to ask good questions, to seek the story of the individuals we meet, not just the basic facts. By connecting with our neighbors and knowing that the neighborhood is the unit of change, we can discover how to be of service to the rest of the world.

Comments (1)

  • John Horne

    John Horne

    17 November 2021 at 11:43 | #

    Couldn't agree more Beth...was an awesome weekend reconnecting with friends of Leadership Florida.
    Another thing David said that made my notes and will make my changes in life when he was talking about communication with people was that Attention should have an On/Off Switch, not a dimmer switch. I'm going to practice that more and more.
    THNX for being there with us and your you, they were awesome


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