A plastic medal. A book of photographs. A little ice cream, quickly gone. Not the stuff, perhaps, that a big league contract is made of.
But for Missy, this was her World Series ring.
I’ve written before about Missy’s softball league, the one geared to physically and mentally disabled players. There’s no score, no win-loss record, no single-elimination playoff, just a good time on a hot summer’s day. Throw the ball, take your swings and make your way around the bases at your own speed to the cheers of family and friends.
It’s fun for those who play, maybe even more so for those who watch. My wife Heather and I have done our best to properly embarrass Missy as she rounds the bases on a volunteer’s arm, whooping and hollering like Troy Tulowitzki had just hit .400. We’ve talked about wearing “Team Missy” shirts when she plays, just to see if the 100-watt smile can get any brighter—or maybe to see how hard she can throw in our direction with a laughing “Shu’ up!”
The biggest reward, though, comes at season’s end when the four teams come together for one last blast. This year it was an ice-cream social in the Senior Center’s gym, the walls plastered with pictures from every game. Everyone got their roar of applause and their photo album, destined to become Missy’s favorite reading material for weeks on end.
Funny, really, how little it takes.
Or is it how much?
This is something that’s been looked at time and again in the working world. How do you motivate people? How do you make them valued and rewarded? How do you create a team and not just a group of people who happen to show up at the same time and do the same kind of work?
You can’t dismiss pay from the equation entirely, though some experts (and maybe some companies) would clearly like to. But even that most fundamental recognition is more of an effect than a cause. Go deeper.
In study after study (and most common sense observations), the same sorts of things come up: A worker wants a workplace they can be proud of and that’s proud of them. They want to enjoy being where they are. They want respect, recognition, more listening and fewer jerks.
To receive dignity. To know that someone cares. To be wanted and needed, and have it shown.
Really, when you think about it, that’s not limited to the workplace. It’s a human fundamental. Everyone should have value.
It’s when we forget that, when we scorn or patronize or decide that someone isn’t worth our time, that we leave marks on the soul.
Think about some of our greatest challenges and controversies. The neglect of our aging veterans. The children from other lands streaming to Emma Lazarus’s “golden door.” The fear of our daily lives being spied on, by government or business.
What are all of these, if not a test of how much respect a person is due? Of who deserves dignity and how much?
And as the scale gets greater, the stakes get higher. The individual that sets off Missy’s “jerk detector” will see her usually open manner pull back. The company that neglects the care of its employees will see friction and defection. The nation that forgets it exists for all the people and not just a lucky few will stain its name before the world. We’ve seen it too many times: Red Scares, internment camps, segregation and more.
Turn it around and that respect can become the greatest of strengths. For a country. For a company. For a team.
A plastic medal – given by a caring friend in the midst of friends. A book of photographs – capturing memories of great times with loving people. A little ice cream, quickly gone – eaten with teammates who can’t help but linger.
There’s the heart of it. There’s the true reward.
Shining right there in Missy’s eyes.