Extra: The story of Sibti
Philippians 4:3-4 & the Story of Sibti
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others - Philippians 4:3-4
In the 1980’s as the technical manager of a small construction company in Pakistan, I was managing 3 or 4 projects. Money was generally pretty tight in those days, credit facilities from the banks were non-existent, and most transactions were in bundles of cash notes - a few cheques perhaps, but on-line payments hadn’t been invented then! When funds were available, we had to plan priorities pretty carefully, particularly which construction material suppliers, subcontractors or items from the bazaar to pay for first. Most businesses seemed to run on a hand to mouth basis - when money came in, you would spend it - hopefully in our case very carefully.
Our purchasing officer - Mr Sibti - knew the local markets and suppliers extremely well, and, with funds available the following morning, I had arranged with him to meet at the office first thing at 8 o’clock to plan the ever shifting priorities to decide who to pay first or maybe just in part. It was 8.15am already, with no sign of Sibti - he was usually very reliable, and it was not like him to be late. I was feeling somewhat impatient when he arrived just after 8.30am.
Sibti: “Good morning. Sorry I’m a bit late, I know we’ve got a lot planned this morning, but I…”
Stuart: (abruptly) “Yes, I don’t know how we can fit it all in today, and time is now rather short.”
Sibti: “I’ve been expecting a busy day - I really had intended to be here sharp at 8am, but I…”
Stuart: “Well the draft list of priorities we made earlier yesterday has now shifted. We’ve got to order that steel reinforcement for the hospital project now, and not next week to keep the project going. And I’ve just heard from our site engineer on the low cost housing project that they will be running out of cement in a couple of days, and you’ll need to fit in a visit to Mr Malik to pay him.”
Sibti: “That might mean that we may have to delay the next interim payment to the carpentry sub-contractor for those wooden doors and windows again. I don’t think Mr Ali would like that! We could perhaps give him part payment tomorrow.”
Stuart: “We can’t delay payment to Mr Ali again - you really need to visit him personally today.” And so we continued to prioritise, until I noticed the time. “I think you had better get going now.”
Sibti: (looking at me now straight in the eye) “Mr Anderson, you’ve been so busy telling me what my programme today should be that you haven’t asked me how I am.”
Stuart: “I’m so sorry, Sibti, how are you this morning?”
Sibti: “Actually, I’m not feeling very good. I’ve been up most of the night with my youngest son, who’s been so sick that I had to take him in the early hours to the hospital along with my wife. She’s still there with him, and I’ve just returned from the hospital - that’s why I was late today.”
Stuart: (after a long pause) “I’m so sorry - I’ve had neither the courtesy to greet you first thing nor to ask you how you were.” I felt such an idiot to have looked only at my own interests, and not at the interests of one of my most faithful and loyal work colleagues. We talked a lot about his family situation, and only then we got around to reprioritise and delay for another day most of those things that I had thought to be so important.
Over the years since then, I’ve often reflected on this conversation with Sibti. Putting relationships with other people first rather than prioritising my own programme, not being so time orientated like so many Westerners living in the East, making the greeting of others a priority when you first meet others, rather than starting off with my own thoughts and agenda.
I clearly had not been putting into practice the principle of valuing others above myself as per Philippians 4:4. Hopefully since then I’ve been learning not to be so time-orientated, to greet others better, and to listen to the interests of others better than I used to.
As recalled nearly 40 years later by Stuart Anderson.