Making Bricks or Building Cathedrals 727.5

According to an old parable, three men were working hard cutting stone from large blocks of granite. When asked what they were doing, the first fellow said, “I’m making bricks.” The second said, “I’m creating a foundation for a large building.” The third person answered, “I’m building a cathedral.”

They are doing the exact same job, and all three responses were accurate, but they reveal the huge difference attitude makes. It’s the difference between tolerating or enjoying one’s life, between thinking small or large.

Mindset matters.

Just like the stone cutters, most of us have a habitual or characteristic mental attitude that determines how we experience and interpret situations. It’s pretty clear that the fellow who saw himself playing an important role in building a grand cathedral is much more likely to feel good about his work and his life than the guy who defines his job as making bricks.

A bookkeeper for a school may think of herself as someone who just works with numbers or as part of an enterprise that educates children. A math teacher can characterize himself as someone who teaches long division, someone who seeks to make all math interesting and understandable, someone who teaches students how to learn difficult concepts, or, larger yet, someone who helps young people develop attitudes and skills that will help them lead worthy and successful lives.

What do you do?

Don’t minimize yourself by just describing the tasks you perform; think big,

There is no job that can’t be meaningful and gratifying, if not because of how it fits into a larger picture of producing human happiness, then at least in terms of the gratification you can feel simply from a job well done.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Comments 6

  1. I enjoyed the making bricks commentary, but I can think of a group of people who this way of thinking should not be applied to and that is politicians.

  2. I have not verified this myself, but the best example of this parable is the workers at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. I am told that if you ask any employee what they do, they will answer “I cure cancer.” Doctor, nurse, guard, or maintenance worker, the first answer is the same. They do this to keep focus on what is important in their mission: to work themselves out of a job.

  3. I’m sorry. Although I agree with your overall point, I’m a bit offended by your assumption that the guy making bricks is more likely to feel worse about his life and job than the guy building the cathedral. I don’t think that’s necessarily true.
    The guy making bricks could easily imagine himself contributing to a larger cause and feel happy and fulfilled; whereas the guy building a cathedral could just as easily feel stressed and overwhelmed by the job he imagines is ahead of him.
    So… good point (as always) but perhaps not the best illustration.
    Thank you for your many commentaries — I always look forward to reading them.

  4. The story could have taken a completely different turn if the point was that the brick makers’ manager had let them in on the big picture of the job in varying degrees. It make a big difference when they know what the bricks are for!

  5. @ Lisa, Wyatt, and Kelvin:
    It’s a parable. The point is that they were each doing the same job but saw the job differently, in smaller, medium, and larger perspectives. Because of they way they saw the world (and, perhaps, because of the way they saw themselves); not because Michael chose a poor parable (It ain’t; he didn’t.)
    Please re-read and reconsider your reaction. There’s wisdom in the parable. But not if you, yourself, are only making bricks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *