It is always more challenging to be assigned a topic than to choose your own. The organisers of this Retreat assigned me this topic, along with the injunction that this is the note upon which these three days of mountaintop experience will come to an end. The intention I am told is that all of us should leave here with this topic lingering in our minds.
As I started to meditate on this topic each word or phrase became a focus of attention. You and Yours, Still, Achieve and Dreams. Over these many years of listening to speeches I have heard talks on You and Yours; Achievement and Dreams. I cannot recall hearing one on Still. On further consideration, I realise that still is really the focus and the fulcrum on which this topic turns. The point is not only that you can achieve your dreams, but that you can still do it. The word I will strive for you to linger on after leaving is: Still.
Normally we think of Still as a passive state. When things are still they are at rest, there is no action. However, we may be quite mistaken in this notion. On second thought it would seem that far from being a passive state, Still, is an active condition. One clear illustration of this feature of Still is found in the Bible. The good book has a verse which states ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ In the active condition of being still, the Word of God states that you begin to know. Divine knowledge is one of the products of the active condition of being still. Let us, therefore, explore ‘Still’ in greater detail to discover hidden treasures that are not apparent at first sight.
STILL INVOLVES REFLECTION AND REMINISCENCE
To say that `you can still’ implies some past experience, some previous history. Still implies that there is a past. Further, it implies some reflection on that past. Lionel Richie in his famous song entitled ‘Still”, commences the song by recalling that `morning is just a moment away and I am without you once again.’ The song begins by implying that in times past he and his love were together before each dawning day. It also implies that times have changed, circumstances are different. They are no longer together. In such a situation he can only recall the past and reflect on the changes that have taken place.
Still stretches into the past. Still does not start from scratch or with a clean slate. Still is not pristine or pure. It is soiled with experience and previous expose. To change the metaphor a lot of water has gone under the bridge. Or as a Belizean friend of mind likes to say `bridge under water’. He says that he has never had any problem with water under the bridge. Brides are designed for water to flow under them. Big problems begin when the bridge is under the water. Still implies `bridge under water’ experiences.
Still involves not only recalling, recounting and reminiscence on the past but also reflection. Still seeks to sort out the past. It is not embittered by the past. It is not bitching about the experiences. This backward look is not jaundiced. Rather, ‘Still’ involves a backward look in search of truth and meaning. It is a humble, quiet, thoughtful reflection on what was, what used to be, compared to what is now.
Still is no mad rush, characterised by preoccupation with the pressures of life with no time to reflect. Still involves that quiet place in the midst of the bustling, bruising, busy daily routine in which we find time to reminisce and reflect upon life and how we have lived it. Still is the point at which we are able to listen the small voice of calm within us and to hear its verdicts on life’s twists and turns.
STILL INCLUDES REAFFIRMATION AND RETENTION
In that Lionel Richey song after he has reminisced and reflected on what was and what is now, there is acknowledgment and reaffirmation:
We played the games that people play
We made mistakes along the way
But most of all
I do love you….
After all the water that has gone under the bridge, or how many times the water has overflowed the bridge so that the bridge was under water, the end result is ‘I do love you… Still’. In this sense of ‘Still’, there is the notion that despite what has happened, the essence of what was has been retained; it remains. Despite the mistakes made along the way, the misunderstandings and the disputes; the feelings, the relationship, the friendship, the loyalty remains, Still. In other words ‘Still’ implies that the flood did not wash it away; the fire did not consume it; the eruptions did not destroy it and games of life did not trivialise it. It remains. The essence is ‘Still’ there.
Still is a declaration reaffirming that that which used to be in the past has survived into the present. It is alive! Still reaches into the past only to reaffirm the present. Still is not stuck in the past, it is a present reality. Those relationships, feelings, and possessions that survive the buffeting, the bruises, the battering but remain to the present, are alive. Of these, when we make the reaffirmation, Still, we experience deep joy, a feeling of security, a gladness from the depths of our soul.
Those relationships, feelings, possessions, of the past, about which we cannot say, ‘Still’, are dead. They are broken beyond repair, forsaken in the corridors of the past, and filed in the achieves of our experience. They are history. They often represent an irreparable loss. Sometimes they represent many of the regrets we have in life. Most of the sadness we experience in life relate to those persons, places and things about which we cannot say: ‘Still’.
This reaffirmation, ‘Still’, speaks of strength. It points to those aspects of our character that have been tested in the crucible of life and displayed the capacity to withstand the fire. It highlights those relationships that have gone through sorry and pain but continues to bind the partners. It speaks to those aspects of our lives that have acquired integrity and virtue because they have been elevated from being platitudes to being life experiences.
This reaffirmation, ‘Still’, speaks to people, relationships and things that are special because they have become anchors to and in our lives. When we can say to people, we have worked with, or lived with, or been friends with, despite what happened in the past, what I did or you did not do, but ‘Still’, we are speaking to special people and of special relationships. For we are dealing here with the continuities in life: people, relationships, friendships that we count on or that count on us. It is that which says ‘I need you’, or ‘you need me’ or ‘we need each other’…. Still. We have been marching in life together, we have been facing its joys and sorrows, its laughter and pain, its ups and downs and we are together, Still. The sense of being special resides in the bonds that hold, the sense of belonging that has developed, the feeling of unity that prevails and the commitment that no matter what, we are and will be together, Still.
This affirmation, ‘Still’, speaks to those attributes that define us as persons. They have become our signature. People have come to know us by them. They have become part of our enduring personality. When we can look back and see ourselves in our own development, see the tribulations and the triumphs, the mountain tops and the valleys of our experience, the good and the bad days and recognise that through it all; these qualities, particular values, specific outlooks, and habits have remained. They are there, Still; then we begin to consciously recognise, our `me-ness’, those unique and peculiar attributes that define us as persons. These are the values to which we have been true, the outlooks on life we have upheld, the virtues we have lived by and even risked dying for. These are the things that make me, me. It is those things about which I can say of me, Still.
Still, therefore, speaks to the being that has become, the traits of personality that have defined and the determination of will that has prevailed. When we say about people, things or relationships, ‘Still’, we are not being trivial or trite. We are addressing the deeper aspects of living, relating and possessing. We are trawling the depths and probing the floor of the ocean of our being.
As we reflect at the end of this Retreat, these three days of respite from the bustle and the hustle of life, let us look within ourselves, look back and identify those things about ourselves of which we can say: Still. In so doing we will be getting in touch with much of the values, the virtues, the visions and the views that define us as persons. We will be getting in touch with ourselves by meditating on those things that endure: Still.
Let us look within the work place, in our homes and families, among our friends and loved ones, among our relationships and possessions. Those of which we can say, ‘Still’, are special. They constitute much of our support system. People, relationships and things that have stayed with us and us with them. They represent the continuities of our lives. They are sources and resources to be treasured and nurtured. So many times we get carried away with the excitement of new relationships, new beginnings and new prospects that we take for granted those that we have: Still. Often we put at risk the proven and the tested for the untested and the untried. This is not to say we must to venture into the unknown, try new things, or develop new relationships. Rather, it is to say that we need sometimes to celebrate and to cherish those that we have: Still.
STILL IMPLIES RENEWAL
Still not only reaches into the past, and embraces the present but it projects into the future. The theme, ‘You can still achieve your dreams’, implies the future. It says there is time yet. It implies that you are not finished or retired from the fray. Still reaches into the past, but it is not exhausted by what happened. It examines the present and it is not deterred. It anticipates the future and assumes that more is yet to come. Still implies renewal.
There are so many things and circumstances that would want to suggest that it is all over. We live in a world full of stereotypes of what men and women should be and do, at what ages these things should happen, and where things should take place. If we accept them at face value then we could we washed up by age thirty. Still says, there is time remaining both to dream and to achieve those dreams.
One of the frustrating features of our times is the large number of young people, especially young men who believe that they are finished, that there is nothing to look forward to. Accordingly, they become engaged in the destruction of themselves and others at an alarming and frightening rate. Small infractions are settled with finality, because there is no sense of: Still. There is no sense of a future and dreams that are possible and can be achieved.
At the other end are people growing older, and because they have not reached a particular point at a certain age they have given up. Sometimes even young people are in such a race to achieve, that they ignore process: the time it takes for things to be planted, germinate, grow, flower and bear fruit. In this age of instant happenings we have lost the sense of nature’s process. We treat ourselves, others and relationships as factory produced goods coming off a production line. We need to understand, wherever we are in life, whatever our disappointments may have been, we can: Still.
In that sense we need to declare to the world that we are not finished. We have not retire from striving. We are engaged with our destiny: Still. From this perspective, we will leave this retreat with renewed goals and aspirations. Even if we had missed the mark in the past, we are going to assault the target again. We will be setting new objectives, developing new strategies because we are going to achieve them: Still.
The difference between the successful persons and the failures is that successful person have got up one more time than they have fallen down. Let us not fool ourselves, we all fall down. The question is, are we going to get up again? Our determination must be that, no matter how many times we have fallen down, at the end of the journey we will be on our feet: Still.
Hence, no matter what the problems may have been, or the obstacles to be surmounted; leave here determined to get up again and to strive again. Complaining, being bitter, blaming others and punishing ourselves is not going to help. Recognise that dreams are attainable: Still. All is not lost. There is time: Still. The key is to embrace the challenges again. To strive again. In other words, to be engaged in life contests: Still. It is in being engaged that we find renewed strength to soar as eagles, to run and not be weary and to walk and not faint.
STILL INVITES RECOMMITMENT
As I listened to the previous speakers this morning addressing the macro sources of changes in the Insurance industry I could not but hear them speak of local and global competition, the constraints of resources and satisfying customer expectations. As we listened to the measures that will be employed to address these challenges we heard of:
– Re-engineering involving radical re-design of systems;
– Resistance to changes;
– Risks in making changes;
– Returns on investment;
– Reward systems that will need to be put in place.
Knowing Jamaica’s unique relationship with the R word, I hope that no one would be misled in their thinking about our focus on ‘Still achieving our dreams”.
What these presentations said to me is that over the next year or more Mutual Life Assurance Company will be experiencing substantial changes and challenges. This will be true about you collectively and individually. In concluding I must therefore address this immediate situation and apply our deliberations to both the company as a whole and each of you individually.
The final aspects of ‘Still’ that I must bring to your attention is its invitation to recommitment. As you project into the future and renew your goals, aspirations, striving and dreams; you are invited to take into the future your essence from the present and the past, so that in the future you can be you: Still. Let us apply this simple principle both to the company as a whole and ourselves individually.
When the re-engineering is complete and the systems have been radically redesigned; after the new technology is in place; the new rewards structure is fully operative and the resistance to change has been overcome, Mutual Life must be a mutual company: Still. If it is not, then the company would have lost its way. It would have betrayed its past, compromised its founding principles and abandoned its soul. In meeting local and global competition, in addressing the constraints on resources and in meeting customer expectation, Mutual life cannot place profit over principle or over people or over its place in the Jamaican society. It must serve the best interest of its policy holders and employees above the personal interests of those who are in management.
Let there be no mistake, as we look around the world and see where companies have made these types of changes, we would have to agree, that many have not only become lean, but also mean. As companies have downsized, many employees have been sacrificed on the altar of profits for the sole purpose of allowing a few top managers to become filthy rich. While using the rhetoric of benefiting shareholders, depositors and policy holders many financial institutions have plundered the resources of their own institutions leaving them weak and vulnerable.
Hence, in addition to grappling with the issues of technological advancement, macroeconomic transformation and customer demands, Mutual Life must also engage itself in soul searching with respect to its history, identity, essence and guiding philosophy. The issues cannot all be brought down to the bottom line and dollars and cents. It is not only how much money you make, but how you make the money, that is at issue. For whose benefit, are all of these changes? In proposing the answer, a crucial factor in the equation must be that the Company remains faithful and true to its founding mission: Still.
Individually, these changes are very likely to upset the status quo. At the lowest level, they will upset the routines we have followed all these years. New ways of operating and new relationships are going to change things. If these changes are to be successful then you must be resolved that when it is all over, you are be going to be a loyal employee: Still. That you will be the best at your job: Still. And that you will give of your best: Still. Without this commitment the changes are likely to have very limited success. In the end it is people that make systems work and not the other way around.
We would be less than honest, if we looked at these major and substantial changes and not admit to the possibility that some employees, some of you, are not going to be adversely affected, perhaps even losing your job. What we are saying here is that even if this happens, remain committed to yourself, your values and your goals in life: Still. Do not be devastated by anything that happens. Remain focused and true: Still.
In this hurricane season, there is much talk of disaster preparedness. Let me say this, anything you are prepared for in life is not a disaster. It may be a memorable event, a momentous occasion or a demanding experience, but not a disaster. A disaster is something that hits you unexpectedly, for which you were not prepared and which shakes the very foundations of your life. Very few persons go through life without experiencing at least one disaster. It may be the death of a loved one, failure in a relationship, loss of a job, failure in an examination, action of a son or daughter or betrayal of a friend. Whatever it is, a disaster puts you to the test. But more than that, it is invitation to re-commitment by affirming that even though this has happened, were are committed: Still.
Let me conclude where I began. The Bible says, “Be still and know that I am God”. As we said before, this implies that being still is not a passive state but an active condition in which we develop knowledge and experience of the Divine. As we have seen Still, involves reflection on the past; it includes reaffirmation in the present; it inspires renewal for the future and invites recommitment. In going through these steps, we cannot but become conscious of the fact that for all those things we can say ‘Still’; it is not because of only our effort, or goodness, or greatness; It is because of God’s Grace, His unmerited favour. In light of all of this, let us leave this retreat resolved:
- To be the best that we can be at work: Still.
- To strive to achieve our dreams: Still.
- To engage life with all its ups and downs, its trials and tribulations: Still.
- To love and cherish those who love us: Still.
- To seek the good even of those who seek to harm us: Still.
- To take all that life will throw at us and remain on our feet: Still.
- To trust God for all of these: Still.