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May 1, 2013

Joining Up, Stepping Up and Learning About Oneself

Great things are done by a series
of small things brought together.

Perhaps it was a wonderful, sunny week on the beach in St. Croix that put me in a philosophical frame of mind. Running a vibrant association like MSCI becomes quite time consuming day-to-day, but with more than a moment to catch my breath, I began wondering why men and women really join associations, groups and organizations. 

The quick answers are, of course, to learn more about their industries and further the interests—secular or spiritual—that they value, or simply to increase their network of personal and business contacts. Those are all valid reasons for joining an association, a spiritual or religious institution, or a civic or political organization. But these opportunities to reach beyond our immediate interests and work schedules offer us a window into ourselves as human beings.

Clearly, many of us benefit from being affiliated with institutions of all sizes and purposes. Our core reasons for taking part, joining up and stepping up vary. After all, you may participate in your local parent-teacher association for vastly different reasons than you choose to be a Blackhawks fan. And there may be considerably more than a simple business decision behind your financial and personal contributions to MSCI, a political party or the neighborhood association. 

We want to be part of something that is bigger than ourselves, I believe. The choices we make help define us. 

Sure, we want to be involved with winners, especially when it comes to sports. But sports, for many, are about something even beyond winning. Many of us see athletics as the embodiment of the triumph of the human will and spirit, a hallmark of physical achievement. This view persists, even when our athletes or fellow fans betray us with their personal failings and poor behavior. We want to believe in what athletics and professional sports can be: a winning goal, touchdown catch or 3-point shot that lifts our spirits. We feel a part of it, almost, if only for a moment, as if we have done it ourselves.

Other associations offer us a more straightforward opportunity to do good work. An association, like MSCI, may help guide your business to prosperity in ways that you might not have seen if you had not been a member. Your spiritual affiliation may offer you immensely satisfying ways to be of service. Your political party provides an obvious way for you to help change things for the better.

It is reassuring to know these institutions exist and that we can be part of them. It is part of the social contract we tacitly sign with one another, and with the people and institutions that make this country work. There is a bonding here that those of us who do this kind of work cherish. There is the satisfaction of working with others who have a common sense of purpose. And, many of you, I know, find surprising benefits, such as getting to know yourself and what motivates you a bit better.

We want to be part of something special, something that is greater—in whatever way you define that—than we may be as individuals. We understand that as individuals we can have an enormous impact on those around us. Before he began painting, Vincent Van Gogh thought he would be a pastor and did missionary work. He wound up spending much of his life painting in isolation. But, as he said, he fully understood that when we work together in ways that are meaningful to us, we can achieve great things.