I Hear People Caring Loudly

In the current world of streaming television and vast amounts of available media content, finding an inspiring show with entertainment value and meaning for the leadership work we do with students, especially around vocation and calling, can be highly satisfying. 

I was recently happy to find meaning, vocation, and care for others in an unexpected place on the streaming menu. All Creatures Great and Small is a PBS show in its third season. Based on books by novelist and veterinarian James Herriot, this series examines small-town life in Yorkshire, England, before World War II. As its main characters—Siegfried, James, and Tristan—take care of both farm animals and pets in their small veterinary practice, the show illustrates the relationships that form as community members depend on and care for one another in daily life.

In the third season, the realities of World War II come closer to the town. I was particularly struck by an episode in which the intersection of leadership, vocation, and care was illustrated. As the three veterinarians live their call to serve others while military recruiters linger in the background and bovine tuberculosis plagues farmers’ cows, the dialogue focuses heavily on discussing where they have the most impact on people. In one scene, Siegfried, the oldest and most unpredictable leader of the practice and a World War I veteran, becomes frustrated at the thought of losing his younger brother Tristan and business partner James to a call to serve in the coming war. He eloquently and loudly summarizes his vocation by identifying his need to care for those he oversees. However, Tristan and James continually feel the pull of war service despite Siegfried’s efforts to care for them by directing their attention back to the importance of their work in the community. Often Siegfried’s yelling at others is misunderstood as a loss of patience. We come to understand, though, that his yelling is a unique way to show his passion and care.

As people invested in the daily work of call and vocation, we know that even though we care deeply for those we lead, our willingness to allow others the freedom to discern their own paths is essential. I have been in several situations recently in which achieving a goal while balancing care for others has been difficult but necessary, whether because patience has dwindled, competing opinions have been expressed, or outside pressures have affected attention to detail and the completion of tasks. A fine line often exists between inspiring the best in others and caring for their wellness with kind words when they are focused on achieving goals or meeting pressures from perceived and real expectations.

A fine line often exists between inspiring the best in others and caring for their wellness with kind words when they are focused on achieving goals or meeting pressures from perceived and real expectations.

With day-to-day work expectations, demands on our time, and the needs of many constituents, we can easily lose patience in caring for others and react in ways that seem not to be caring, just as Siegfried often did with James and Tristan by yelling and showing a lack of confidence in their abilities. Recently in an informal department meet-and-greet, our university president expressed how one of the prevalent challenges of her leadership is knowing if everyone is being cared for or not, especially within the many student groups we serve, as various priorities and requests are constantly shifting. In my own leadership, I am most called to care for others as a minister and a leader, yet I am also most aware of those times when I do not treat others in a manner that illustrates my care for them.   

In our (almost) post-pandemic world, as our schools and constituents face many challenges, the need to care for others cannot be emphasized enough. Just as Siegfried sees that a vocation of leadership is precisely a vocation of caring for others, the opportunity lies within our communities to see the same. With so many difficult things happening in the world, there is an infinite need to care for those in our community. Caring does not mean we let others off the hook or fail to bring forth what is best. However, it does remind us to be patient and believe that others care as much as we do. We miss the mark to care perfectly sometimes but often with good intentions. One of my leadership role models, also found on television, inspires me not only by her ability to be passionate about what she does but also by her ability to care so deeply for people and her work that she can excite them about local government. I often want to lead with the passion, understanding, and ability to mistake criticism for care that Leslie Knope of Parks and Recreation does. So, as we continue to live out a vocation of care and presume the good in all people, remember these words from Leslie Knope: “What I hear when being yelled at is people caring loudly.”

For further reading on compassion and care, see Courtney Dorroll’s series on self-care in the academy, Craig E. Mattson’s A Fire That Burns but Does Not Burn Us Out, and Paul J. Wadell’s An Easter Meditation on Calling.

Colleen Dunne is Director of Campus Ministry at Santa Clara University. She previously served at Carroll College in Montana, Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, and Saint Martin’s University in Lacey, Washington. 

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