The Big Dipper

by Joanie Butman

After reading Steve Jobs’ biography and watching a subsequent documentary, I can’t imagine there is anything in the recently released movie that might compel me to watch it. No one can argue that the man was a genius in many ways, and being a devout Apple convert, I appreciate the way he simplified computing for the masses. Still, he was also a fallible human being like the rest of us. Yet people venerate him. He’s become a god of sorts – at least he thought so. In fact, his belief that he could cure himself is what ultimately lead to his demise – death by hubris.

The saddest thing about his story is how he chose to interact with others. There was a cost for his genius, as he used it as an excuse to treat others badly – intentionally. But why? To what end? Someone always had to lose for Steve to win. Jobs is a perfect example of someone who chose to put his resume virtues above his eulogy ones, though I think he was reconsidering that decision towards the end. Resume virtues are a list of what you've done. Eulogy virtues describe the person you were while you were doing them. David Brooks defines them as “the ones that exist at the core of your being – whether you are kind, brave, honest or faithful; what kind of relationships you formed.”*

Our Bible study this week focused on leadership and how the most important attribute in leading others is humility – a word rarely, if ever, used in reference to Steve Jobs. Did that prevent him from being successful? No, but it left an unnecessary trail of human debris in his wake. I guess he didn’t buy into the adage that “How you treat others is a direct reflection of how you feel about yourself.” If this maxim is true, and I believe it is, Jobs’ colossal ego must have been masking incredible pain and insecurity.

One of the best books I’ve read in regard to how your conduct affects others is How Full is Your Bucket? Tom Rath and his grandfather, Donald O. Clifton, describe the personal and social impact of negative behavior. It should be required reading for everyone. I was happy to discover a children’s version, as this is a concept it’s never too early to introduce. Their theory is as follows:


The Theory of the Dipper and the Bucket

Each of us has an invisible bucket. It is constantly emptied or filled, depending on what others say or do to us. When our bucket is full, we feel great. When it’s empty, we feel awful.

Each of us also has an invisible dipper. When we use that dipper to fill other people’s buckets – by saying or doing things to increase their positive emotions – we also fill our own bucket. But when we use that dipper to dip from others’ buckets – by saying or doing things that decrease their positive emotions – we diminish ourselves.

Like the cup that runneth over, a full bucket gives us a positive outlook and renewed energy. Every drop in that bucket makes us stronger and more optimistic. But an empty bucket poisons our outlook, saps our energy, and undermines our will. That’s why every time someone dips from our bucket, it hurts us.

So we face a choice every moment of every day: We can fill one another’s buckets, or we can dip from them. It’s an important choice – one that profoundly influences our relationships, productivity, health, and happiness.

Their entire premise is based on the conclusion that every interaction we have contributes to a cumulative sense of well-being in either a positive or negative manner. There is no neutral ground. Regardless of who we are and what position we’re in, we all possess the power to make someone’s day better – or worse – just by having been put in their path. 

A simple acknowledgement is all it takes to affirm someone. It’s a gift to anyone you come in contact with to let them know they matter enough for you to take a moment to say hello, wave or just offer a smile. Nothing dips into a person’s bucket deeper than being disregarded. John Ortberg comments in his book, Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them, “…we speak of paying attention to people; attention is the most valuable currency we have.” I believe the highest compliment you can give anyone is your attention – a timely and excellent reminder in this digital age where it’s a challenge soliciting anyone’s undivided attention. Thank you Mr. Jobs.

My personal litmus test as to my bucket-filling ability is whether the other person is going to feel positive when I walk away, or will I leave them shaking their head wondering, “What’s her problem?” which sadly happens more frequently than I’d like to admit.

I’ll never change the world. I can't even change myself! I’m no genius. No one is going to write a book about me – which is why I had to do it myself, and believe me, it will never make it to the big screen. However, I will die happy if the way I chose to treat others made them feel valued. That’s the legacy I want to leave. I don’t always live up to that goal, but it’s something I try to aspire to in every encounter. 

Finally, the best way to begin each day is with a full bucket so that you’ll have an abundance to share with others. I choose to fill mine with Living Water by starting each day in prayer. It’s a source that will never run out, but I still have to choose to visit the well daily (at least) to replenish it. The days I try to get by on anything less than a full bucket are the ones where I become the Big Dipper.

How do you choose to fill your bucket?


*The Road to Character, David Brooks