A Lesson from My Parents: Help Put Away the Chairs

Sometimes little things your parents just do, the little examples they set, things you don’t even really think about at the time, are life’s most valuable lessons.

When I was growing up, my family was very active in our church, in our Catholic schools, in sports, and in a variety of other worthy causes. So we spent quite a bit of time at various crowded events: meetings, fundraisers, civic events, awards banquets, and so on. Pretty much without fail, when one of those events came to an end, my mom and dad wouldn’t leave as most of the crowd departed for home. Much as us kids would have loved to dash off to our own house, we stayed.

And we helped put away the chairs.

You see, those events were held in multi-use spaces such as the church hall or our school cafeteria, or a city building. Almost always, the seating was folding metal chairs, and maybe folding tables too, arranged specifically for that event. So when it was over, those chairs either had to be folded up and put away, or rearranged to suit the regular purpose of the space. And pretty much every time, my parents and our big family would hang back and help.

Some of the time we weren’t part of the group that organized things. Some of the time we were. It didn’t matter. We jumped in regardless and made quick work of the wrap-up chores, which also often included sweeping and clearing up trash. I have to say, though many times I chafed at the work and just wanted to go home, I wound up with a great sense of accomplishment when we left behind a clean and tidy meeting room.

As I think back now, I’m certain the organizers of those events were happy to be able to get home more quickly themselves. And of course, my siblings and I got a marvelous lesson in what is now called “servant leadership,” but which back then was just being a good member of the community. Either way, to this day I hang back and help put away the chairs. I bet my brothers and sister do too.

In today’s world, far too many of our “leaders,” in government and education and corporations, are busy grabbing more and more power by spewing hatred and dividing us and causing more problems and more destruction, rather than building our communities and leaving behind them clean and tidy spaces. Too great a part of our citizenry seems focused 100% on doing nothing but complaining and blaming others when things they purport to care about fall short of the perfection they think should exist, perfection that will never be reached.

Wouldn’t it be a lot better if more people followed my parents’ lead and just helped put away the chairs?


Jim Vinoski
Jim Vinoski
Jim Vinoski thinks he’s a pretty regular guy. Jim grew up in Michigan’s glorious Upper Peninsula. He’s married and has two sons, and now resides in the Grand Rapids, Michigan, area. He’s an avid cyclist, runner, and reader. He and his two boys are heavily involved in Scouting, with Jim serving as their Troop’s Scoutmaster. He’s a big WWII history buff and has never gotten over his 1980s fascination with heavy metal music. He has over 30 years of experience in manufacturing, in products ranging from plastics and paints to food and bourbon. (That last one was a heck of a lot of fun.) His focus has been in engineering (he holds a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering), operations, and management. He’s a veteran of such companies as Ralston-Purina and General Mills, and he’s currently responsible for all store-brand manufacturing of dairy and beverage products for a major regional US grocery chain. As a Forbes Contributor, Jim covers all facets of manufacturing. He’s explored everything in his column there from the success stories of numerous American manufacturers to the amazing innovations in our advanced technologies, such as 3D printing and artificial intelligence. Jim also blogs about everything under the sun at The Interface.

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  1. I loved the way by which you introduced servant leadership and its effectiveness, Jim.

    Rightly, you wrote “In today’s world, far too many of our “leaders,” in government and education and corporations, are busy grabbing more and more power by spewing hatred and dividing us and causing more problems and more destruction, rather than building our communities”. In the absence of servant leadership chaos prevails.

  2. Jim — Besides our love of WWII history, we have a shared domestic history here. While I don’t remember putting chairs away at temple, my parents believed that everyone needed to pitch in to keep the house running. And it wasn’t that we followed a list on the refrigerator with gold stars next to our name or received an allowance. We were just expected to do our part. Two chores that I recall: I used to carry the heavy laundry basket – two parents and five kids worth – up and down a couple of flights of stairs, and I was also responsible for cleaning my father’s bathroom. I used to joke that summer camp for me was taking care of outdoor chores. But that said, one of my fondest memories are of the day when my dad gave me my first beer after I mowed the lawn. I was probably 12 or 13 at the time, and given the hot sun, the thing went right to my head.

    To your analogy at the end, a lot of people in business, the media and government today obviously never had parents like ours. I see people carrying so much hatred in their hearts. It has to be exhausting. We have big “rooms” where the chairs need to be picked up – infrastructure, climate, poverty, racism etc. Would be so much easier if we could just say “You start at this end of the row, I’ll start on that end, and we’ll meet in the middle.”

    Thanks, Jim, for a beautiful message.

  3. Great message Jim. I grew up in the Catholic school system and putting the chairs away was a regular ritual. It showed my siblings and I, be ready to join in and help without being asked; to offer support when there may be nothing in it for you; a simple act of kindness costs you nothing.

    • I never thought of the example of putting away the chairs that my parents gave me until I found myself doing it too, Jane, particularly when my own two sons are there and helping out. I think those kinds of nearly-invisible examples of proper behavior are the most powerful ways we learn right and wrong.

  4. I love your parents’ attitude, Jim, and I am sure that the giving of their time had an unmatched ROI in goodwill. It also taught you that nobody is above menial work.

    “Many hands make light work” I don’t know if this is the PTA’s official motto, but it could be.

    When one arrives at a new place, it is easy to get the impression that this company/organization/club/… is a fairly close-knit group totally impossible to get into because “all the others know each other”. Not being included is our two year old crying out in horror inside. But most were outsides at some point. The smarter of them asked “what can I help with?” and by being active got to meet those who knew everybody else.

    As so many organizations run on volunteer basis, I always recommend to new immigrants that they offer their help to the board of any organization they are interested in. At first they may send out mailers or do other menial tasks others are happy to get rid of, but even mailing gives you a host of names and contact information to everybody worth knowing. When you eventually meet the people, you already recognize their name, and the blink in your eye that tells them that you are aware they exist makes them feel more appreciated. Not a bad way to start a relationship.