Being good stewards in an age of consumption and waste

MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. -- Stewardship isn't a popular subject these days. Through popular media, television, Internet and the like, most of us are bombarded with daily messages to get as much as we can and spend, spend, spend on bigger houses, bigger cars, and more with no regard for how all these items gets cared for or consumed.

Where does being a good steward fit into this picture and how does it apply to us? Well, let's start by defining our terms. What is stewardship anyway? Merriam-Webster defines stewardship as "the activity or job of protecting and being responsible for something" or "the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care." The key question becomes what is that "something" that we are to look after, care for and responsibly manage? And, does that "something" only apply to things or could it apply to people as well? In short, that "something" could be almost anything depending on the context and situation. What would a good steward do?

As a U.S. Air Force contracting officer, I'm entrusted with the care of (stewardship of) taxpayer's money and have to make decisions each day on the wise use of this money. This isn't always easy, especially as we approach the end of the government fiscal year and we get requests to purchase items we're not really sure are essential. But, we're told, if we don't spend all our money this year we may not get the same amount next year. What would a good steward do?

Is this just a rant on wasteful government spending? No, and here's why. We all are stewards of something - many things actually - and can choose to act responsibly (or not) to care for what we have.

Making wise use of taxpayer's money just happens to be something that hits close to home for me because it's my job, but I can probably think of a hundred other things that have been entrusted to my care that I should be a good steward of, for example my family, my own body, the house I live in, the car I drive, the material possessions I have, the 24 hours in a day I'm given, the natural resources in this great state of Montana in which we live, and the list could go on and on. I bet you could think of a couple hundred things that you're a steward of as well. Go ahead, think about it for a second and write a few down. What would a good steward do?

For leaders and supervisors, which is pretty much all of us at some point in our lives, what about the people we lead? Aren't they our most valuable resource and our most important asset, far more important than any house, car, boat or that new toy for the garage? In a very real sense, they have been entrusted to our care, to help them grow and develop. You are a steward of the people you lead. How are you caring for and responsibly managing the people you lead? What would a good steward do?

So, where do we go from here? The point of this brief article was to help us take just a moment to think about all of the things that we're stewards of and to reflect on how we're doing as stewards. Is there room for improvement? Of course, there always is. Primarily, how are we caring for the people that we're responsible for? It's not always easy to be a good steward and it takes a little bit of extra effort, but in the end it benefits us all. And always remember, what would a good steward do?