I brought along with me on this trip a copy of John Steinbeck’s great work, The Grapes of Wrath. First published in 1939, The Grapes of Wrath is the classic story of the Joad family who are forced to leave their home in Oklahoma during the Great Depression, and of their journey along Route 66 (“The Mother Road”) in search of the mythical good life in California. The Grapes of Wrath provides an unflinching look at the circumstances of farmers-turned-migrant workers as they travelled west in search of jobs and stability. Acts of violence and cruelties both great-and-small befall the Joad’s and their extended family along the way. Their difficult lives in this novel are punctuated by occasional acts of kindness. And yet, it is these few acts of kindness that help to fuel their sense of hope for a better future. As I finished reading the book last night I was reminded of Robert Greenleaf’s “Best Test” of servant-leadership, and how it, too, fuels my own sense of hope for a better future. Greenleaf writes: “It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant—first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test is: Do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?

--Larry Spears [Monday, Jan. 25, 2010]