JFK, Phil, and really poor odds

A simple block of wood used to sit on the Oval Office desk, when Pres. John F. Kennedy was in office. Attached were the bronzed words from the Breton Fisherman’s Prayer, a poem by Winfred Ernest Garrison:

“Oh God, thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.”

I admit. It’s always attractive to me when one considered so knowingly powerful chooses humility. Hear that word again: chooses.

What I love about the fisherman’s prayer is not the Celtic language nor the affinity for the sea. What I love is the reference of humility… how this then sat on the President’s desk.

Humility changes things, friends.

It changes how we lead.

How we interact. 

How we voice our opinion.

How free we feel to judge.

Writes author Gavin Ortlund in a recently read book by the Intramuralist…

“Now, it’s easy to admit in principle that you have blind spots. But humility will cause this recognition to make a noticeable difference in your actual interactions with people. It will lead to more clarifying questions, more pursuit of common ground, more appreciation of rival concerns, more delay in arriving at judgments…

Humility teaches us to navigate life with sensitivity to the distinction between what we don’t know and what we don’t know that we don’t know…”

That means we approach potential disagreement with “careful listening, a willingness to learn, and openness to receiving new information or adjusting our perspective. Pride makes us stagnant; humility makes us nimble.”

What made the throngs of people surround surprising victor, Phil Mickelson, for example, as he closed the course on Sunday, wasn’t just his powerful drives nor incredible sand shots nor even the fact that he’s 50 years old. The people were prompted by how the PGA’s beloved Lefty handled himself not only Sunday but also as his career has evolved…

He didn’t stand before the mics and tell everyone how talented and great he is.

He didn’t boast that he would win the next major, too.

He also didn’t tell everyone else how wrong they were — and yes, at 200-to-1, the oddsmakers were emphatically wrong.

But Phil never shamed the oddsmakers. He never bashed a competitor; in fact, he affirmed his competitors, especially his fiercest. Phil Mickelson approached his unexpected, additional moment of fame with gratitude and humility. Humility is always attractive.

What would it change if we were to embrace that more?

… if our leaders embraced that more?

… if we forsook the temptation to boast or bemoan?

“Oh God, thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.”

May we remember the sentiment savored by JFK. May we practice it more generously, too.