April 22, 2008

"Guided by the belief that good is the opposite of bad, mankind has for centuries pursued its fixation with fault and failing. Doctors have studied disease in order to learn about health. Psychologists have investigated sadness in order to learn about joy. Therapists have looked into the causes of divorce in order to learn about happy marriage. And in schools and work places around the world, each one of us has been encouraged to identify, analyze, and correct our weaknesses in order to become strong.

This advice is well intended but misguided. Faults and failings deserve study, but they reveal little about strengths. Strengths have their own patterns." ~Marcus Buckingham

The children and their father went to the zoo last Friday afternoon. Imagine me sitting here. My house is spotless as never before. My bank account is on the strictest and cruelest and most pinching, clutching, shaving diet its ever seen. Unlike, even, those early days of poverty. We can't afford the land we are going to buy. That says it all. We will buy it. It will be worthwhile and a worthy investment. But we are so dry right now, my cheeks squeak over my teeth.

So imagine me sitting in this unnaturally clean dry state in my empty house. What to do? Oprah, of course! I decided to watch Oprah. TV during the day, what a revelation. I felt like the oddest stereotype of a 1950s housewife. I almost put on a pencil skirt for the occasion. And there on her show I encountered the simplest idea: Set aside what you lack. Nurture your strengths. I found this riveting, a revolutionary thought.

Marcus Buckingham was talking about this backwards notion of failure, in which we are all ruthlessly schooled. Where do you fail? What haven't you done? What do you lack? He says life actually becomes one long remedial math class, an arena in the spotlight of your failings. How depressing. And oh, the energy drain.

You can sidestep that mentality and turn to what works. He said that in order to figure out what your strength is, pay attention to how you feel as you move through your day. A Strength will be a way of moving in your world that feels empowering. Its more than a talent. A strength, he says, is the application of talent in a way that feeds and energises you - thereby literally strengthening you as you move along.

Where are children ever taught to think like that? And what of our careers? My mind leapt toward my Beloved Husband. He is very shy, introverted, and an amazingly creative and gifted writer and musician. How could a life in management be anything other than drudgery for him? Management of people would be a setup for constant struggle with his lack of expertise. That life would be divorced, almost by design, from his natural brilliance. (A wonder that he is so successful. Though I watch him being slowly drained.) I thought, then, of the years and years and years we spend shuffling through school days as if on a treadmill designed to point up the ways in which we are worst (and so publicly at that.) And how that could come to feel like a natural state, to live dogged by a constant push to improve in places you don't naturally shine.

My mind rested for a moment on the word unschool, how it implies a passion driven life. But even unschooling parents seem to run through a mental filter, searching for lack. Perhaps more so, as the lack is already implied by our refusal to school. Poppins blogged today about this in a way I found so moving. She spoke of making sure to live in broad colorful strokes. Not only do I love the image, I am inspired, as usual, by her example.

But still, part of me pauses. How can I teach the children to play to their strengths, and at the same time be fretting over possible failings? I am reading John Adam's biography right now. The one written by David McCullough. And his early education blows me a way. He learned to read at home as a child. He spent some years, from about 10 to 14, in a school picking up intellectual skills. And at 15 he was off to Harvard. By his early twenties he was through an apprenticeship in law. He kept a diary from about 15 onward. He looks constantly to improve himself - it seems to be a strength of his. And moves away from any place in life that feels like drudgery to him (such as a couple of years he had to spend teaching school children.) He was amazingly passionate and willing, and then so open about himself as well.

It was said of him, "He saw the whole of a subject at a glance, and ... was equally fearless of men and of the consequences of a bold assertion of his opinion. ...He was a stranger to dissimulation." John Adams himself said, "Honesty, sincerity, and openness, I esteem essential marks of a good mind." And he was of the opinion that men ought "to avow their opinions and defend them with boldness."

Oh, my inner blogger just thrills at those words. And I am digressing badly. Where is my point?My point is on the tip of an arrow, a note to myself. Be sharp and direct, an acute angle aimed directly to the heart of what you want. Forget "well rounded." Certainly we don't aim for obtuse? Focus on what works and move that way. Don't school what lacks, school the children in their own brilliance.

1 comment:

Mommylion said...

Exactly! Sometimes I feel like you do the work for me. There are ideas I believe but don't voice. Then I click over here and you've got it laid out neat and tidy for me. Thanks!

I get so frustrated with society's mad race to get everyone to the same level. Even the rare people who are strong in every area end up frustrated at the end of such an experience.

If the energy were spent cultivating the strengths in each person then it sets a higher standard for respect and dignity. Measure based on what you know and do rather than what you don't. A society based on a positive outlook for a change. Sounds good to me.