About a month ago, my wife and I were sitting on padded folding chairs in the offices of our church, about an hour into the monthly Planning Team meeting. Walt was talking, which meant one thing: we had reached the financial report part of the meeting. Not coincidentally, it was also the part where some of our eyes would glaze over.
But something very special happened in that session -- something that the members of the Planning Team can't stop talking about.
Walt was giving us some good news on the budget. In the last month of the year, enough donations had come in to cover our annual budget. "December is the biggest giving month by far," Walt said. "It's like that every year."
We nodded, expecting Walt to wrap up and to move onto the next item on the agenda. But he didn't. Instead, after a moment's hesitation, Walt reached into a folder he had tucked in his bag and pulled out a wrinkled check. He stared at it for a moment. Then he looked back up at us.
"I could tell you about some of the big donations we received," Walt said. "But I'd rather show you the most generous one."
He hid the name on the check with his finger, but not before I saw the first name -- I'll call the person Michael.
More important than the name, though, was what Walt was pointing at: Michael's check was for a total of three dollars.
To understand why this was so extraordinary, you need to know that we live in a very affluent community. Our church is diverse, but it includes a bunch of bankers and hedge fund folks. When there's a budget shortfall, there are quite a few people in the congregation who have the means to write some big checks and take care of it. And they do -- we have a very generous community.
Michael, our check-writer, must have known this as well. He could have kept his three dollars and nobody would have been the wiser. After all, it if he's writing a check for three dollars, chances are that's quite a bit of money to him. But here's what made Michael different -- what made him an inspiration: it didn't matter to him that others were probably going to cover the budget. What mattered to Michael were his principles. He believed in something. What mattered to him was that he honored those principles by making a donation.
So often, when I hear people talk about being inspired, they often talk about the grand, superhuman gestures. But I have rarely been as inspired as I was by Michael. It didn't matter whether it was the church, or a cause, or helping a friend. He believed in something, and he didn't let the actions of others influence that.
There are a lot of ways to inspire people. But there is one common strand of DNA that unites all those inspirational people out there. They are committed. Genuine commitment isn't conditional. It doesn't matter if somebody's already doing that job. They do it because they believe in it.
So on that Sunday last month, Michael laid his folded three dollar check in a wicker basket, on top of checks for hundreds of dollars, even some for thousands of dollars. He must have known that it would be but a drop in the bucket. That it wouldn't really make any difference.
Except that it did make a difference -- to every one of us that heard Walt's report. And it stayed with us.
The most inspirational people keep to their principles whether or not anybody is watching them. And what a joy it is when we catch a glimpse of them, sticking to those principles. Because that's what inspires us, and it's what gives us the courage to do the same.