October 22, 2004
This week, I’ve been reading the story of Stuart Little to my kids. For those not familiar with the tale, Stuart Little is a fictional mouse from a children’s book of the same name written by E.B. White. Stuart is born into the Little family and raised as any other of their children, despite the fact that he is quite clearly a mouse. The book tells the story of Stuart’s wild adventures, many of which center around him protecting (from a cat named Snowbell), then searching for, a bird named Margalo when she comes up missing. In the end (spoiler alert), we are left with Stuart still on the hunt for Margalo, but hopeful, in fact quite sure, that he will find her.
As I ended the book, the girls already asleep, I began to think about Stuart in the context of real life. First, I wondered about the etymology of his name. Stuart, I recalled, is the French modification of Stewart, a surname which was crafted in 14th century Scotland from Steward, a designation for he who was assigned to serve a ruling monarch as the supervisor of their estate and household. So, even today, a steward is one who serves. And Stuart = Steward.
And Stuart is Little. Stuart is not a giant. He is not even human size. He is tiny. But he does big things. At one point in the book, Stuart wins a major boat race in Central Park, NYC – a big deal. Returning home, his brother asks Stuart where he’s been. Instead of making a show of his conquest, Stuart simply says, “knocking around town,” as if it were nothing at all. For Stuart, it wasn’t about Stuart. The etymology of “Steward” Little personified him as a character, always looking to serve others, including the grand search for Margalo, which consumes the entire second half of the book. Finally, White’s leaving the search undone, was I believe, purposeful. It was a way of saying, “The servant is never finished.”
And that’s the point for the week.
There are lessons everywhere. Often, we find them in unlikely places, sometimes in little children’s books. True caring stewards are like that too. They are found in unexpected places. That’s because they endeavor to make themselves small, or like Stuart, little. They know that the smaller they become the larger others can get. And they know that the work of getting small is never done.
The stewardship of others is not a part time avocation. It’s not a boat race in the park to be run and done. It’s a lifetime commitment, to others. Stewardship does not take a day off. Or, as I’m fond of saying, “every day, means every day.”
But the paradox of stewardship is this, when we make ourselves really, really small, so that others can get really, really big, that’s when very large things start happening in our own lives. The path to achieving that which we deserve in life is through the service of others. The greater our service, the greater will be our reward. Best of all, like little Stuart, our greatest adventures will be found in a life devoted to others, of countless lives touched, and an endless horizon stretching beyond the limits of our human sight.
So be a stuart of others.
If you like the blog, you’ll love the book. To purchase a copy of Phillip’s book, The Not So Subtle Art of Caring: Letters on Leadership, from John Hunt Publishing, London, please follow this LINK. “Letters” is based on 85 story-backed lessons Phillip used while leading actual teams to accomplish extraordinary things. It is an outstanding resource for those who wish to commit to becoming the sort of leader that people WANT to follow.
To learn more about Phillip, please click HERE.