I keep a crumpled and yellowed article on my desk next to my computer. I cut it out from The New York Times nine years ago. I've never known quite where to file it, so it sits underneath my keyboard.
The article recounts the court trial and conviction of Bobby Frank Cherry, a former Ku Klux Klan member who was sentenced to life in prison for the 1963 murder of four little girls after bombing the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL.
It took 38 years to catch and convict Cherry, who was apparently a vile and evil man. The part of the article I find inspiring does not focus on him, but rather on a woman named Eunice Davis, a sister to one of the little girls who was killed.
The New York Times interviewed Davis after the verdict was announced, and she expressed a perspective that I still find deeply moving. The article states, "Ms. Davis had decided not to hate Mr. Cherry." It then goes on to quote her directly. She offers the following rationale behind her decision not to dwell on hating this awful man: "He just don't know better."
I have enough trouble not being clouded by anger when one of my colleagues snubs me or I perceive a political threat in motion.
I'm getting better as I get older - I've worked long enough to know that I should never make a big decision that is fueled by emotion or answer emails when agitated. However, I can't imagine the clarity and peace of mind this woman achieved in the face of true tragedy. When her moment in the publicity spotlight came, she chose the high road.
I thought about Davis a little while back when I witnessed another remarkable instance of someone choosing the high road. While this latest occurrence was nowhere near as serious, tragic, or complicated as the murder of four little girls, it still struck a chord in me.
On July 9, after 16 years and 9,600 at bats, New York Yankees icon Derek Jeter smacked his 3,000th hit - with a home run no less. Christian Lopez, a 23-year-old phone salesman, caught the ball and, in doing so, nabbed a piece of history that could easily be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Instead of auctioning off this historic ball on eBay, however, Lopez decided to give it back to Jeter.
"It wasn't about the money - it's about a milestone," Lopez said to reporters. "I mean, Mr. Jeter deserved it. I'm not going to take it away from him. Money's cool and all, but I'm only 23 years old and I have a lot of time to make that. It's his accomplishment."
I have cut out the article with this quote and it too will go under my keyboard for safekeeping.
I'm struck by the extraordinary responses from these seemingly ordinary people. Each of them underwent a remarkably rare experience with the potential for a raw, emotional response, which would have been justified in most people's eyes. I certainly wouldn't blame Davis for hating Bobby Frank Cherry, just as I wouldn't be surprised if Lopez had sold Jeter's baseball for as much money as the market would bear.
And yet each of them chose to respond with dignity, clarity, and an amazing sense of perspective. And for that, each has earned an eternal spot on my cluttered desktop.
Don Spetner is EVP, corporate affairs at executive recruitment firm Korn/Ferry International.