So many wonderful stories and lessons are available to us today and yet we seldom hear or read them as our media chooses to focus on the more negative. Thus, we created this Generational Gems series. We all have the responsibility to see that these Gems are passed on to the coming generations. The following Gem is true, goes back a few decades, and is certainly pertinent today. Take a moment and share it in the hopes of keeping it alive.
Living in the Same Box
It is 1936. American Jesse Owens seems certain to win the long jump competition in the Olympic games. The previous year he had jumped 26 feet, 8 1/4 inches—a record that will stand for 25 years.
As he walks to the long-jump pit, however, Owens sees a tall, blue-eyed, blond German taking practice jumps in the 26-foot range. Owens feels nervous. He is acutely aware of the Nazis’ desire to prove “Aryan superiority.” And as a black son of a share cropper, he knows what it is like to feel inferior.
On his first jump, Owens inadvertently leaps from several inches beyond the takeoff board. Rattled, he fouls on his second attempt too. One more foul and he will be eliminated.
At this point, the tall German introduces himself as Luz Long. “You should be able to qualify with your eyes closed!” he says to Owens, referring to his upcoming two jumps. For the next few moments, the African American and the white model of Nazi manhood chat together. Then Long makes a suggestion. Since the qualifying distance is only 23 feet, 5 1/2 inches, why not make a mark several inches before the takeoff board and jump from there, just to play it safe? Owens does and qualifies easily.
In the finals, Owens sets an Olympic record and earns the second of four gold medals. But who is the first person to congratulate him? Luz Long—in full view of Adolf Hitler! Owens never again sees Long, who is later killed in World War II. “You could melt down all the medals and cups I have,” Owens later writes, “and they wouldn’t serve as plating on the 24-carat friendship I felt for Luz Long.”
Perhaps unknowingly, Luz Long taught the world a valuable lesson.
Someone else put it like this: “We can learn a lot from crayons. Some are sharp … some are pretty … some are dull … some have weird names … and all are different colors … but they all have to learn to live in the same box.”
The same holds true for today’s workplace, and we shouldn’t overlook the importance of this lesson.
About Harry K. Jones
Harry K. Jones is a motivational speaker and consultant for AchieveMax®, Inc., a company of professional speakers who provide custom-designed seminars, keynote presentations, and consulting services. Harry's top requested topics include change management, customer service, creativity, employee retention, goal setting, leadership, stress management, teamwork, and time management. For more information on Harry's presentations, please call 800-886-2629 or fill out our contact form.
I’ve never heard of Jesse Owens or Luz Long but they’re obviously part of our history. Do they tell this story in school today? They certainly should. Our entire society needs to hear more along these lines, maybe over a beer at the White House! I know I’m going to pass it on.