A Different Kind of Teacher PART ONE

I recently spent an fascinating weekend with a teacher. Every person is a teacher; some are warnings, some are examples. Just what do I mean by that? Well, in general there are two kinds of people, Anchors and Speedboats. Anchors drag us down to the bottom where they like to live. Speedboats pull us forward to a bright and healthy future. So this teacher, an Anchor, let’s call him “Bryce” was on fire with lessons. Watching him for two days was a seminar all by itself. He demonstrated by his behavior, attitude and aspect what NOT to do, how NOT to act, what NOT to say. After processing all the lessons he taught me, I made a list. I hope it helps you. It had a profound and lasting effect on me. One I will never forget. In fact, from today forward I will strive to do and be the opposite of each of the 13 lessons learned.

Before I go too much further, I must tell you. Whenever I write about a topic I ask myself a couple of questions to determine its efficacy. First question, “Have I done this personally?” Second question, “Have I observed at least five people do this?” Results are the name of the game. It has to work. I have to believe in it. Otherwise I am wasting your time and mine. I have put the negative observations in a single word first and its positive opposite second and in the form of a question. I like questions. They force me to think.

Here we go:

Right vs. Happy?
Talk vs. Listen?
Frown vs. Smile?
Sulk vs. Serve?
Complain vs. Accept?
Shabby vs. Sharp?
Excuses vs. Responsibility?
Negative vs. Positive?
Resentment vs. Forgiveness?
Friends First vs. Family First?
Criticize vs. Praise?
Bigotry vs. Self-Effacing Humor?
Fat or Fit?

1. Right vs. Happy?
Twenty years ago, a friend of mine asked me, “Would you rather be right or would you rather be happy?” That question changed my life. For the first twenty five years of my life, the sub-conscious choice I made was: “I’d rather be right!” It was pure ego and pride. People with low self-esteem and large egos make belittling others a habit. BE-Little. BE-Littler than me. As “Bryce” was a verbally assaulting me by saying I didn’t know anything about how to make tacos in the most condescending of tones, I said, “That’s it.” I walked out of the room. React vs. Respond. Instead of arguing with him and defending my position, I simply gathered my things and left. He saw the effect of his insensitive remark on the faces of those around us and tried to apologize with empty words. Too late. The other people in the room saw his true colors. I didn’t say a word. You see, there is a difference between an apology and an amend. An apology has no teeth and no change in future behavior. An amend on the other hand carries with it responsibility and change. His words were an empty promise. I had heard it from him too many times before. (Did I mention it was over how not to make tacos?) You see, he came from my neighborhood and was older than I. When I was young I looked up to him. Not anymore. He is just older. Sadly, I had adopted much of his philosophy without knowing it. I had to learn to unlearn what I had accepted as the truth. Virtually everything he did was wrong and his life reflects one broken relation after another. He had bought the wrong plan! He is sixty years old. HE isn’t going to change. It was time for me to change. I would rather be happy than right. So I left. It will be a long time before I ever spend time with him again, if ever. Life is too short.

2. Talk vs. Listen?
Dale Carnegie wrote, “You can make more friends in twenty minutes by becoming genuinely interested in other people than you can in two hours trying to get them interested in you.” My senior year in high school, I was nominated for “Most Talkative” and it wasn’t a compliment. I used to talk and talk and talk. When you were exhausted from my monologue, I would find another victim to talk to. Today, the people I admire are the ones that say, “How is your family?” and then listen. “How is your business?” and then listen. Listening requires a dying of self, it’s OTHER-Centered vs. SELF-Centered. God gave us two ears, two eyes, one mouth. I am working on using those gifts in that ratio. 4-1. Listen and watch four times as much as I talk. Great listeners are welcome everywhere they go. They get invited back. Talkers don’t get asked back. I want to dominate the listening today. I watch “B” do the talk, talk, talk shuffle. I was painful. Today I like a balance of talking and listening. Its fair. Everyone has a story. Everyone has something to be proud of. The only way I will learn is to ask questions and listen. I avoid saying “That’s nothing, one time I…” and remain content and listen. I might say, “No way, then what happened…” and listen some more. It turns out, it’s fun to listen. Who knew? I never learn anything when I am talking.

3. Frown vs. Smile?
It takes thirteen facial muscles to smile, forty seven to frown. Evidently, I didn’t mind the extra work. Each of us are mirrors. We attract people of like mind and attitude. Birds of a feather, flock together. I love being around smilers. They laugh quickly and easily. They are usually in a good mood. They are genuinely glad to see you. They are Speedboats. They pull us forward. I have to, from time to time, consciously remember to smile. It’s worth the effort. I need to show more teeth. A change in physiology occurs when we do. Endorphins are released, the brain emits serotonin, a chemical which decrease stress and build our immune system. It’s healthy to smile and laugh. Watching the Different Kind of Teacher, he rarely smiles. Most of the time, he wears a frown. Sad.

4.Sulk vs. Serve?
Sulking is a kissing cousin to frowning. Sulking is self-pity in disguise. It’s a cry for pity and attention. Toddlers do it when they don’t get their way. It’s a unique combination of frowning, silence, distance and detachment. I choose to avoid the sulkers. I don’t want to know what’s wrong. I want to be around Speedboats. Anchors are toxic. It’s painful to observe. I am a recovering sulker. Anchors away. Speedboats serve others. They look for ways to help. They volunteer. They jump right and say “What can I do?” Embracing a Servant Leadership Attitude means constantly looking for ways to help. I am getting better at reading body language, anticipating needs and serving others. It’s a great feeling that instantly makes me feel good about myself.

5.Complain vs. Accept?
Bless this different kind of teachers heart! All I heard for the first few hours was how bad the food was and how stupid the people where he encountered on his drive north from California. My wife and I have a favorite phrase, “What kind of people live in this town?” She claims, and I agree, that if you are nice to people, they are always nice back. If you believe people are mean, stupid, they generally prove you right. What kind of people live in your town? Today I am working on acceptance of people, places and things. Who am I to judge others? I have no idea what they are going through. The carpenter from Nazareth once said, “Judge not, lest ye be judged. Don’t worry about the sliver in your brother’s eye when there is log in your own. I have to stop hanging around the lumber yard! Anchors complain, Speedboats accept and forgive others.

6.Shabby vs. Sharp?
They say clothes make the man. They say we only get one chance to make a great first impression. They say. I know a fellow of modest means that always looks sharp. He is a technician. He has a good job but isn’t rich. When he walks in the room, people turn and look at him. He irons his clothes. His shoes are shined. His hair and beard are neatly trimmed. He has self-respect. He doesn’t look like he slept in his clothes the night before. The color of his shoes match his belt. Little things. He isn’t slovenly. He eats right and takes care of himself. He cares about how he looks but doesn’t obsess about it. He makes a great first, second and third impression. I am working on looking sharp today. I used to show up looking like I slept in my clothes. It’s different today. I iron my pants, shine my shoes, make certain my clothes match. It’s astonishing how little time it takes to look sharp vs. shabby.

7.Excuses vs. Responsibility?
We either make excuses or finish what we start. We either blame others or grow up and do what we say we are going to do. We keep our word to ourselves. Only then can we keep it to others. When we blame others we are really indicting ourselves. Do you remember Aesop’s fable of the of the fox and grapes? After unsuccessfully trying to reach the grapes up on the vine one hot, dusty August day, the angry fox walked away still hungry and thirsty complaining aloud, “They are probably sour grapes anyway. I didn’t really want them.” I don’t want to be the fox. I don’t want to be Mr. Sour Grapes. It’s time for me to grow up, to take personal responsibility for all of my actions and decisions.

8.Negative vs. Positive?
Which one are you? Half Empty or Half Full? Pessimist or Optimist? According to a recent study at Chicago University, Optimists live longer than Pessimists do and have a better time along the way. What is your philosophy? The difference is Pessimists believe the causes of their tragedies and setbacks are permanent, pervasive and personal. (“It’s going to last forever, it’s going to undermine everything I do and it’s me.”) Optimists on the other hand believe the opposite. (“It’s temporary, it will change and I have influence over its outcome.!”) It’s a choice. It’s an attitude. It’s a philosophy. I choose to be an Optimist. Guess what? As a result of that choice, I will live longer and have a better time along the way.

9.Resentment or Forgiveness?
For the first 25 years of my life, I would seethe with resentment over an issue I had caused. I stepped on the toes of others, and was oblivious to the effects of my actions and then I would feel sorry for myself while I blamed others for my problems. Soon, this big resentment attracts lots of little ones. I would replay the wounds over and over again. I was a grudge holder. I would seek out other grudge holders and have a pity party. The solution is simple. Take responsibility for actions and decisions, forgive the other person and move on. The days are long but the years are short. Certainly too short to be holding on to grudges for weeks, months or years. Forgive and forget. Move on. I just know I will live longer and enjoy this brief journey more.

10.Friends First vs. Family First?
I love the line from the Kevin Costner film “Wyatt Earp”, Gene Hackman, Wyatt’s father says at the dinner table, “Nothing counts so much as blood. Everyone else are strangers.” I have tried to live that simple creed. I am very close to my children. I have always spelled love, TIME. Given the choice between a gathering of friends or family, I choose family every time. Not true for some people. My wife taught me that. I married up. Her family is close. Now ours is. Though my kids are grown and living out of country and in other states, but we talk almost daily. Don’t get me wrong, I have some great friends. I enjoy my time with them. I meet once a week with a group of middle age men who share the same values. However, my family always comes first. I believe thats the way its supposed to be.

11.Criticize vs. Praise?
I used to criticize anyone that was more successful than I. When I consider that, it makes me sad. I used to do that all the time. I was often heard saying, “That guy got lucky” or “He must have cheated.” Not anymore. My new favorite phrase is “GOOD FOR YOU!” or “Way to go! You must feel great (or proud). YOU earned it. That’s exciting!” Are you a fault finder or a good finder? Healthy people choose to be good finders. It’s an extension of how they feel about themselves. That too is a choice.

12.Bigotry vs. Self-Effacing Humor
Negative humor is at the expense of someone else, be it a different lifestyle, culture, color or gender. It’s a form of hatred. Judgment and criticism are an extension of that habit. I have been guilty in the past and still, from time to time, catch myself doing it. It’s intolerance. It’s fear based. It’s bigotry. Making fun of myself on the other hand is healthy. If I make fun of my hair, height or shortcomings, you don’t get to. Its like popping a balloon. It surprises people. They don’t expect it. I can do it as much as I want and its okay. It also belies a level of confidence, self-worth and esteem that makes others feel safe. Moreover, its fun. It allows the receiver to relax and enjoy a good laugh at my expense.

13. Fat or Fit?
60% of americans are obese. 30# overweight is considered obese. The tire around the middle. The waist is a terrible thing to mind. Middle age is when your broad mind and narrow waist trade places. I use to gobble my food and reach for seconds before the rest of the guests were halfway finished with firsts. I was betting rushing so I could have thirds. When others went for a walk, I stayed behind and sat on the couch. Being fit is simple, just three things to master: Small portions, quality food, and exercise. That’s it. I am about 10# over my desired weight. I have some work to do. I will achieve my waist goal.

It really is true, we become most like the people with whom we associate. Who are you hanging around? Anchors or Speedboats? What kind of teachers are influencing your philosophy?

I hope these lessons learned from a different kind of teacher will offer some options, some joy, some peace of mind in your life. I know I have a long way to go to live up these 13 Insights. I will be working on them the rest of my life. My hope is the next time you see or hear me, you will notice I am practicing the latter, not the former precept. Maybe, just maybe, I will hear you say, “Good for you!” followed by, “You are nothing like you used to be.” Followed still with “By the way, have you lost some hair?”

I probably should forward this to that different kind of teacher. Thanks Bryce. I learned so much.

Enjoy the journey, the best is yet to come.

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