The 2012 graduates of the University of Pennsylvania got some unusual commencement advice. Nipun Mehta, the founder of ServiceSpace.org, told the Ivy Leaguers that though everyone else might expect them to fly, he wants them to walk. What he said makes sense for all of us, and it seems particularly timely advice for our business-focused issue.
Mehta and his wife spent three months walking across India, and his speech contained many personal anecdotes. (For the whole transcript, see huffingtonpost.com and other sites.) What I’d like to share with you, in edited form, are his words on four behaviors he pegs to the acronym WALK.
Witness: “When you walk, you quite literally see more. . . . Higher speeds smudge our peripheral vision, whereas walking actually broadens your canvas and dramatically shifts the objects of your attention. . . . A walking pace is the speed of community.”
Accept: “When walking in this way, you place yourself in the palm of the universe, and face its realities head on. We walked at the peak of summer, in merciless temperatures hovering above 120 degrees. . . . [W]e had to cultivate the capacity to accept the gifts hidden in even the most challenging of moments.”
Love: “Most of us believe that to give, we first need to have something to give. . . . We have forgotten how to value things without a price tag. Hence, when we get to our most abundant gifts—like attention, insight, compassion—we confuse their worth because they’re, well, priceless.”
Know Thyself: “[W]hen we serve others unconditionally, we shift from the me-to-the-we and connect more deeply with the other. That matrix of inter-connections allows for a profound quality of mental quietude. . . . [W]e are then able to see clearly into who we are and how we can live in deep harmony with the environment around us. . . .”
A three-month pilgrimage isn’t possible for all of us, and it might not yield the same epiphanies Mehta’s did. But I’m just fine with stealing his. —Cheryl A. Ossola, Editor in Chief
Where There’s a ‘Why,’ There’s a Way
The actor was not getting it. In a middle school production of Fame I was choreographing, his character, playing a performing-arts high school student cast as Mercutio, had the line “They have made worms’ meat of me!” The script told him to grab his gut in an “overly theatrical” manner, which our show’s director was more than happy to demonstrate. But still, the actor’s performance was bland.
Running into the actor in the wings, I blurted out, “What’s worms’ meat?” Met with a blank stare, I explained that, in Shakespeare, “worms’ meat” means the person is dead. Why? Because worms wiggle their way through cracks in wooden coffins and proceed to suck the eyeballs out of dead corpses and make a feast of every bit of rotten flesh. (I was talking to a middle school boy, remember.) For the first time in rehearsals, I had not only his full attention but that of about a dozen performers who listened in, slack-jawed.
The next time he delivered the line, he grabbed his gut as if Ridley Scott’s alien was about to burst forth. The director leaped from her seat. “Bravo, Jacob!”
I call what I did the magic “why.” As teachers, we tell kids what to do, show them what we mean, and ask them to try. It doesn’t matter if you are teaching math, English, dance, or soccer—the method is the same. But in the rush to jam in as much as we can on a deadline—and a director blocking a play is in the same boat as a dance teacher preparing for recital—the “why” often gets short shrift.
I think real learning takes place when students understand the reasons for what we’re asking them to do. Explaining them takes time, for sure, because there isn’t always a simple answer, and many times the answer itself begets many more “whys.” And the discussion might lead us teachers to admit we aren’t exactly sure “why” ourselves. The best result, of course, is when we ask the question and the kids fill in the blank.
So keep a few “whys” in your back pocket to throw around the next time the kids are bored, or struggling, or flippant. Why? Because I said so. —Karen White, Associate Editor