Think about it for a moment, we own very little, but are stewards over much!

As each year passes by, I have become increasingly aware of the illusion of ownership and the world’s pre-occupation with it. Oftentimes, I reflect on the fact we were born into this life with nothing, during our journey through life we exercise our greatest gift of agency, (the right to choose), and with the exception of our memories and experiences we depart this mortal life with nothing.

  • Ownership is defined as “the act, state or right of possessing something”
  • Stewardship is defined as “the activity or job of protecting and being responsible for something”

So here is the question – do you actually own your house, your car, or the latest gadget? Stop for a moment, really ponder over that question…… Is it really perhaps a matter of perspective and time? Consider this story: Two couples saw a masterpiece in a private gallery. “We must own it” said one. “It is so beautiful it possesses us, so we must possess it.” The other couple moved quietly away and said to each other, “Would that we could give it to all, place it in a public place for it is too beautiful to own and too uplifting to be kept from all”.

I have set myself a motto for this year “To BE and not to seem” which caused me to reflect on an experience I had on a business trip to India a few years ago. I managed to find some time whilst in Mumbai to visit the Mani Bhavan, which acted as the focal point of Ghandi’s political activities between 1917 and 1934. In the building there is a minimalist room where he ate, read, spun cloth, slept and received visitors. I came to realise that as Albert Einstein stated “Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe that such a one as this, ever in flesh and blood, walked upon this earth”. Ghandi died “owning” fewer than 10 items – he truly understood the value of stewardship as opposed to ownership.

I love this little story from Russell M. Nelson. “Sometime ago, as I was officiating in the nightly ritual of getting our little children into bed, I may have seemed a bit dictatorial with the directions to ‘pick up your clothes, brush your teeth’ and other such utterances. Then our five-year-old wistfully looked and said, “Daddy, do you own me?” While she has doubtless long since forgotten her question, I have remembered it as a challenge to distinguish carefully between ownership and stewardship. Often as parents and leaders we may be tempted to direct as owners rather than as stewards. In the last analysis, we own very little, but are stewards over much”.

Consider a few words – pride, envy, fear, stress, frustration. Now think about the cause and effect of these words. Remove the idea of ownership and the foundational characteristic of each of these words collapses. As we understand the reality of stewardship and apply the principle in our home, family and business life, we can replace these characteristics with their polar opposites – humility, empathy, courage, peace, fulfilment.

A friend recommended that I read “Tuesdays with Morrie” a true story by Mitch Albom, of experiences with his University Professor Morrie Schwartz. A remarkable testament of identifying what really matters most in our life and why we all need to slow down much, much more and enjoy the journey.

What does stewardship mean for you?  Are you a good steward?