3 Skills to Pass On

The flair moment came as I thought more about an article I read yesterday called, “Redefining Education:  Cultivating the Soul”, written by Thomas Moore (who happens to have been a monk, a professor, psychotherapist, and musician).  He writes this: 

“There are many items we assume can’t be taught that will simply fade away if we don’t teach them: manners, civility, good language, mature love, good art, self-awareness and reflection, intelligent reading, responsible travel, care of one’s home and belongings, a sense of the beautiful, intelligent spirituality and empathy for our fellow citizens on the planet. This is a small part of a much longer list.”

All morning, I’ve been thinking about Moore’s words.  How am I cultivating these traits in others (and myself) as a parent and as a teacher?  As I help students prepare professional materials (resume, cover letter, mission statement), I always remember what they report was most useful of all.  It’s not the PowerPoint slides about effective resume design or how to format a cover letter.  It’s the week I take to teach them these three things:

1.  The art of Conversation
2.  The art of Conflict Resolution
3.  The art of Community Organizing

When we discuss and practice these things, we know we tap into a lost art form of living well in community.  Students who know how to engage others in conversation, how to manage disagreements, and how to gather folks together to solve problems succeed more in work and in life.  They know this, and time proves it.

The lost art of living vibrantly in community needs revival.  This week, I’m reminding my family how to ask good questions in conversation (What was that like for you?  Would you tell me more?), resolve conflict well (listen, summarize, find common ground), and organize community events to examine and confront problems in our community (fitness, education, environment).  Perhaps these three skills will capture the essence of Moore’s hopes for education. College students find them life-enhancing and often life-changing.  I know my family will too.

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A Stranger Tells Me His Secret

Many of my flair moments in the past 90 days occurred during conversations with strangers: the tired woman at the grocery store,  the neighborhood boy,  the hard-working Amish man, the precious waitress who gave my daughter a bad day mantra, the mean people at the drive-thru, that wonderful unknown woman who gave me the complement that changed my life, the curious woman and her service dog, the man at Starbucks, the man chasing trash in the parking lot, or the little boy explaining why he loves the rain because it makes the worms come out.

Remembering these conversations–and the flair they brought forth–reminds me to challenge myself to engage more with people who cross my path.

There’s flair there, I just know it.

I am leaving a restaurant, and a man whose job it is to hold open the door greets me with a big smile.  He proudly holds open the door with such gusto I have to stop.

“Thank you!”  I say happily.  And then again:  “Thank you so much.”

He smiles bigger (if that were even possible).  This employee is happier than he should be in this heat with this on-your-feet job.   I have to find out why. 

I say, “When you hold the door like that, it makes us all feel like celebrities.”

He frowns and shakes his head.  He says, “You should feel like that all the time, not just when somebody is holding a door.”

“All the time?  How is that possible?”  I say, my arms crossed.  The rest of my party is already in the parking lot, and I’m hanging around to talk to a strangely happy man.

“Above ground,” he says softly.

“Huh?”

“Above ground,” he repeats.

I lean in and whisper, “What in the world does that mean?”  People stream past us, a whole crowd of them, and I’m ducking my head back and forth to try and maintain eye contact.

He waves his hands like he’s shooing me away.  I stand my ground.

“I’d have to explain it and it takes too long,” he said.

“Well,” I say, raising my eyebrows.  This was flair, and I wasn’t about to leave it.

“OK,” he says, the crowd thinning so he can give me some time.

“You just say to yourself that you’re above ground.  You aren’t stuck where you are, on this ground.   It’s not about where your feet are or where you are hanging out.  You can be above it–above it all.   You are above ground.  Do you get it?  It’s not about where you are or what you are doing.  That’s why you can be the celebrity every day.”

He’s already on to other parties.  He’s like a rock star that bothered to take a moment to talk to the little people.  He’s big stuff, the real deal, and he’s happy.  

And I’m writing down his words, learning from a stranger, because he was there, above ground, holding the door for me.

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