From the Eye of the Storm

Mediating Decisions, Facilitating Solutions, Sustaining Prosperity

A Message to Ninth Graders

I have 3 notions that I would like to share with you, the ninth graders of our planet: First, I would like to address the question “Why is it important for each of you to apply yourself and capitalize on the educational opportunities available to you during the next four years and beyond?”. Secondly, I would like to set a collective goal for you, one which when accomplished will benefit all of us. Thirdly, I would like to share three concepts that you can start practicing today and as they are mastered, these concepts will contribute to reaching the goal that I have set for you.

Notion 1:  “Why is it important for each and every one of you to apply yourself and capitalize on the educational opportunities available during the next four years and beyond?”. My answer is simple and it goes something like this: “Because we, the adults in this room, the adults in this society, the adults in this country, and the adults on our planet, need your assistance in making this world a better place for all of us to live”. Now, I’m sure that there are some whose immediate response is “What’s wrong with our society? We live in a great country and everything is working exactly as it should!”. To some degree, this perspective bears truth. I will readily admit that I have personally been a beneficiary of the great opportunities our society makes available, however; I make observations that strongly suggest that there is room for improvement. As an example, every time I stop at an underpass or traffic light and see a person with a sign that states “hungry, please help!” or “homeless, need money”, my heart breaks. When I was a ninth grader, I could have never imagined living in a society where so many people are displaced and believe their situation to be hopeless. I have mentioned this situation to several other adults and a common response is “These people did it to themselves. They are lazy, crazy, drug addicts or criminals!” While these ‘judgments’ may simplify the thought about this situation, there is one observation that makes all of this hard for me to accept: More than 1.5 million American children (under the age of 18) are homeless each year (The National Center on Family Homelessness). Now, I don’t mind telling you that I relied on assistance from adults (namely my parents) to ensure that I had a roof over my head at least until the age of 22. My belief is that in a civilized society, children should be able to rely on the adults to ensure that there is food and shelter available to them, not occasionally, but at all times. It is my belief that resolving the homeless situation in our society is one of several opportunities in front of us for making the world a better place for all to live.

Notion 2: The goal that I would like to give the ninth graders is “Don’t limit yourself to individual success, strive for greatness. Greatness, not success, is your ultimate goal”. So what is greatness? Greatness is using your individual success for something greater than you (Cornell West). To achieve greatness, everyone in society benefits from your individual success, not just you or your family. Your work and efforts make life more wonderful for all. When I was a ninth grader, adult mentors reminded all of us to work hard in school and apply ourselves in order to become successful. It was direction that was welcomed, appreciated and needed. As a result of following this direction, my classmates and I were granted opportunities and achieved successes that weren’t available to our parents. We achieved material gains that were unimaginable to our parents’ generation. While it appeared that we had reached our goals of success, we are now learning that our life strategy was less than ideal. We assumed that if we all met our goals for individual success, then our world would automatically improve for everyone. We are now recognizing that this was not true. We recognize that there are many social dis-eases in our society that require more of our personal attention for them to heal. So now, we find ourselves with an excess of material riches and voids close to our hearts because we live in a world that did not become a better place for all to live. Many of us work jobs that do not bring us pleasure, because it’s difficult to see how our efforts improve the world we live in. So, my goal for you, the ninth graders of the world is ‘do not settle for individual success, but strive to achieve greatness!’. Make this world a better one for all.

Notion 3: Here are three concepts that you can start practicing today. Practice open-mindedness, practice active listening, and practice collaboration/cooperation.  You can practice these within or outside of the classroom. Open-mindedness requires that we be receptive to ideas new and/or different from our own.  Being open-minded helps us to recognize that we do not know everything and we learn to respect views and beliefs that differ from our own. Open-mindedness is a requirement of advancing civilizations. For nearly 2,000 years, there was a widely held belief that the Earth was the center of our solar system and that the planets, including the Sun, rotated around the Earth. During the 16th century, Nicolaus Copernicus published today’s widely accepted belief that the Sun is the center of our solar system and the planets rotate around the Sun. Isn’t it incredible to think of something so significant being incorrectly accepted for 2,000 years until Copernicus came along? What would our world be like today if we were still operating from the old and then widely accepted model? Today, what else is widely accepted that might be incorrect? Remember, open-minded societies are positioned for advancement and growth, while narrow-minded societies remain stuck in a very narrow and limited existence.

Active listening is the second of my three concepts. Active listening is a communication technique that requires the listener to understand, interpret, and evaluate what they hear. The ability to listen actively can improve personal relationships through reducing conflicts, strengthening cooperation, and fostering understanding. To actively listen, one must turn off the iPod, turn off the TV, shut down email and put the phone away. It requires suspending one’s own frame of reference, suspending judgment and avoiding other internal mental activities that impede one’s ability to fully attend to the speaker. A requirement of active listening is that only one person talk at a time. When two or more people are talking simultaneously, active listening is not taking place. If necessary, keep notes that can be used to ask clarifying questions when the speaker has finished. The goal is to not only hear the words, but understand the meaning behind the words. This is how effective communication occurs. According to an article by Peter Bregman, published in the Harvard Business Review, “A study showed that distracted people saw a 10-point fall in their IQs. What’s the impact of a 10-point drop? The same as losing a night of sleep. More than twice the effect of smoking marijuana. Doing several things at once is a trick we play on ourselves, thinking we’re getting more done. In reality, our productivity goes down by as much as 40%.”  Can we agree that less intelligent and less productive people is probably not in the best interest of our society? Practice active listening.

Collaboration/Cooperation is the third concept I hope you will practice. Collaboration/Cooperation is the process of working or acting together. In its simplest form it involves things working in harmony, side by side. Collaboration/ Cooperation is an option available to us for effectively resolving complex problems. Collaboration/Cooperation postions two or more things functioning together to produce a result not independently obtainable (synergy). Simply put, our most complex issues will require us to work together. As an example, when I was born, there were 3.1 billion people on the planet. When I was in ninth grade, there were 4.1 billion people on the planet. Today, there are 6.97 bilion people on the planet. The earth’s population has more than doubled in my lifetime and I am not yet considered an ‘old man’. Why is this a problem? Well, in a world where countries and companies are already competing over resources, it appears to me that the growing population complicates the management of resources. It doesn’t require a rocket scientist to understand that no matter how large the cup is, enough liquid can be poured to eventually fill, then overflow the cup. I have no idea when our planet fills up or overflows, but if this is a problem that will be solved constructively, collaboration/cooperation is imperative.

In closing, remember that it is important for you to apply yourself, because we (the adults of this planet) need your help in making this world a better place for all to live. Don’t settle for individual success, but strive for greatness. You will certainly achieve greatness if you can master Open-mindedness, Active Listening and Collaboration/Cooperation. Thank you for your time. It has been both an honor and a pleasure to share my thoughts with you. Best of luck to you, for all or our futures!

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One Response

  1. stormseye says:

    This talk was given on September 7, 2011 to the ninth grade class at East Wake Academy in Zebulon, North Carolina.

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