Ring Side Seats
J. D. Pendry
Here in the Bible belt we say, "If you want to sit in the back row, you have to get to church early." Being accused of back row Baptist practices, I've often been curious about what draws us to life’s back row – and not only at church.
For example, it’s not possible for me to count the number of times, during my Army life, when someone necessarily stood in front of a group of soldiers and NCOs and said, "OK everybody get up and move to the front." In fact, I cannot recall a gathering of the sort when it didn't happen. Every class I ever attended, as a student or instructor, from elementary school through college was the same. Don’t you find that conduct odd for a group of leaders and potential leaders? Maybe that’s why we need to think about it.
Why do we choose, in settings whose purpose it is to give us knowledge, to get as far away from the action as possible? Do we fear that some of the imparted wisdom may overwhelm us if we get too close to it? Or that it might not agree with all the preconceived notions about life in general that we all have? Or is it that words which hit too close to home have a softer impact when they filter through all the others between the front and us. Many of us obviously prefer our enlightenment, even if it’s free, to be transmitted to us long distance.
The back row preference doesn’t apply to all things however. Some of us would camp out overnight in the middle of a winter storm just to be the first to buy a ticket that gets us closer to a whacked out musician or some other such spectacle. Events that most of us wouldn’t even attend without the guarantee of good seats. However, when we have the opportunity to observe or hear something meaningful, that’s also free, we make a beeline for a seat in the back row.
The front row or the back is one of the daily choices we make. Like any other choice, it comes with consequences. Time spent weighing the consequences affects the choices one makes. I like to equate the back row/front row choice to leading. Do you lead from the front or the back and what are the consequences of each? It’s tough to lead from the back, but it’s often tried and usually at the expense of the led.
Did you ever hear the benchwarmer’s prayer? It’s the difference between wannabes and superstars, winners and losers, leaders and followers – the front row and the back row. It goes like this, “O’ Lord, please don’t let them hit the ball to me.” Because of that mind set, when the benchwarmer does get the ball, he’s not prepared to do anything with it or he’s in such a hurry to get rid of it – pass the buck so to speak - he either drops it or throws it to the wrong person. When a benchwarmer gets the ball, the result is usually not good. He sits in the back row. The superstar on the other hand, wants the ball. He wants it every time and works hard at knowing what to do with it when he gets it. He’s always in the front row.
Hecklers and naysayers are also at home in the back row. They are never out front providing us with leadership or with an original thought or idea, but they’re always ready to back seat drive the decisions made or ideas put forth by others. You’ll find many politicians and much of today’s news media fulfilling that role.
The question to resolve as leaders or followers, is are we on the front row or the back row? Do we want the ball or not, and if we get it are we prepared to do more with it than just pass it off?
When a difficult task is doled out, are you in the front row or skulking in the rear with an attack of turtle syndrome? When it comes to taking responsibility are you in the front row or are you willing to pass it to another?
There are some instances when the back row might be the right choice. If you are a leader now or hope to be one someday, you need to figure out when that is. For example, do you push your way to the front when it’s time to receive credit for a job well done or do you get behind your soldiers, who did the work, and push them to the front?
Should you be in the front row or back row? When taking responsibility, taking credit; exercising candor, courage, competence, commitment, compassion, dedication, discipline, self-discipline, self-motivation, LDRSHP; when being the example, setting standards… Compile your own list of attributes and decide from it when you should be at the front.
Sometimes practical, yet not too subtle advice from others inspires us to move to the front. For instance, today as I was preparing to take my usual seat in the rear pew, my wife (of 28 years as of May the 4th) shared with me some of her practical wisdom. She told me that when the deacons serve communion, if we are sitting in the rear, several hundred sets of fingers touch the communion wafers before we get to take one from the plate to put in our mouths. As we selected seats closer to the front, I wondered how many of those fingers might have recently been in noses.