A friend recently shared a story of a practice in his tribe on how they medicate a wounded livestock in their village somewhere in Zimbabwe. According to him, once they notice that any of their livestock has sustained an injury, they would apply salt to the wound of the animal to prevent the wound from attracting swarms of flies, and to stop the flesh from deteriorating. Salting a decaying injury in an animal automatically dispels clouds of screwworm flies from infesting the wound and contributes to the preservation of the flesh from leeches. Once it has dissolved and soaked deep into the wound, the presence of the salt naturally drives away dangerous parasites from feasting on and hovering around the wound. Such a procedure alleviates any discomfort sustained by the animal as it goes about its business with ease. Although uncomfortable and chili sometimes, the benefits of applying salt to a wound outweigh the mild discomfort of the treatment.
This analogy serves the purpose of illustrating what a great teacher named Jesus, once said in Matthew 5:13 as he talked about how we ought to impact others. Jesus reminded us that we “are the salt of the earth.” Being a salt can be a very challenging task because of its subtle nature, especially when we are not clued up on its powerful alleviating effects.
Salt does not radically announce its presence but contributes, like a salt to a physical wound, to restoring and alleviating a deteriorating system by subtly dispelling and preventing systemic odours or parasites that might be attracting any form of distraction or discomfort.
It is not easy to put in so much effort for others without been given due credit. But yet the salt is right there, soaked and dissolved into the different social, religious, mental, and physical injuries of this world, earnestly making constant endeavours to add value to a decaying world.
By functioning as the “salt of the earth”, we quietly, without being noticed, drive away the cloud of discomfort and dysfunction hovering round our communities. Being a salt also implies that we are agents of change called to restore the decaying tissues in our systems and communities.
In the same text in the bible in Matthew 5:14, we are also reminded of our role as the “light” of the world. Light is a state of awareness. The presence of light is unmistakable. Light naturally draws attention to itself as it fights darkness. Darkness cannot remain in light’s presence. And if you choose to change a system as light, you need the courage to be different from others as they try to comprehend your view.
I think being light is admirable but sometimes it is not always the best way to go about bringing change. It could have a devastating effect on a person. It could lead to job loss. It could draw reprisals. Even with your best intentions, it could easily lead to a misunderstanding.
Story was told of the great Henry Ford after he announced that the Ford Motor Company was doubling wages for its workers to the unheard of $5.00 per day on the 5th of January, 1914. This pay raise was based on Ford’s concern that many of his workers were underpaid and had never handled sufficient income. This led him to establish a department in the company to oversee his new compensation plan for his workers, but with the condition that each worker would exemplify good character both at the workplace and in their homes. To be eligible for the pay raise, Stephen Watts writes in his book ‘The People’s Tycoon’, “…employees had to demonstrate that they did not drink alcohol, did not physically mistreat their family, did not keep boarders in their home, maintained a clean house, and demonstrated a good savings account.” The department did all they could to rebuild the broken moral fibre of the workers. Not until the late 1920’s did it become clear to Mr. Ford that his attempt to reform the character of his workers had failed. Ford’s moral reform failed because most of the workers felt the program was humiliating. Some called Ford a paternalist for trying to own his workers even outside of the factory space. In reality, the workers swopped their pride and privacy for a $5 daily plan. Some historians argued that many workers resisted the reform but acted as though they had altered their behaviour for Ford. Most of them did not truly internalize the values they were practicing and didn’t let Ford capture their hearts and minds in the process. After trading their pride and privacy for money, their jobs became boring to them because they felt they had no freedom.
I personally think that the failure of Ford’s moral reform program was because he wanted to be a “light” by playing the role of a father figure to his workers instead of focusing on being a role model and a friend to them.
To become a successful leader, you do not need to force others to believe in what you believe in and neither do you need to pass a policy (no matter how good it may be) to change others. Change is a personal thing and must be mutual. Do not try to change people if they do not want to change.
Although sometimes being a light can be a requirement in a deeming world but I do not think is compulsory to always shine as light. If you want to shine as light, better have the courage to withstand the outcome of your audacity. As far as I am concerned, I think the most effective way to change others is to go about it the salt-way. As powerful as the salt is, it does not radically announce its presence nor draw attention to itself. Over time, it diffuses and affects a desirable quality. Proximity to salt can lead to drastic changes. There are times when wisdom requires that we behave like salt – doing what needs to be done and conducting ourselves in character in our own little corners where nobody sees our efforts.
Obviously, our passion would often make us to want to be the “light of the world” whereas wisdom would require us to behave as the “salt of the earth”.
Are you a light or a salt? Salt enriches, builds, and preserves. While light on the other hand illuminates, frees, and distinguishes. To be light though, we must be ready for the outcome of our courage and stand for that which we believe is right especially when the feedback we get may be discouraging. However, for some of us, we have been salt far too long and need to be brave for once in our dull lives to shine as light before others and bring change in our communities.