Think of some of the best teachers you’ve ever had in your life. Go ahead… I’ve got loads of time to wait… umm… especially since by the time you read this post, I’ll be all done with it and not literally sitting around waiting for your pondering self. Win-win for everyone! But in thinking about those people, what were some of their most notable qualities that made them such good teachers? For me, I find it tends to boil down to two critical traits: a passion for teaching the subject and the ability to make the complicated simple. Boom – there ya have it.
With that in mind, I found it interesting as I read some of the negative Amazon.com reviews for the book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey to see what exactly people were complaining about. The most common gripes were “It’s just common sense!” or “Typical self-help tripe!” and things of that nature. To me, these can almost be a form of an endorsement for a book of this nature (i.e. self-help or a new way of viewing your own world). Why? Because it gets back a little bit to about what makes a good teacher – are you taking a concept and making it simpler or more accessible? It’s certainly possible that the reviews could be spot on and you read the book only to find out that every page is full of regurgitated platitudes about doing good to others and being a better person. That’s just an annoying read.
But guess what? Not the case with this book (at least not for me). In fact, the gripes people had I found fairly amusing because they focused on the high level themes of each section “Put first things first” and “Think win/win” without delving into the author’s thought process behind those notions. That’s just flat out missing the point, my friends.
For me, I found a nugget that hit very close to home and gave me more than a few minutes pause as I read the book last night in bed. The first theme/habit of the book is “Be proactive.” Pretty simple right? If someone just told you that you needed to “be more proactive” and that was the extent of their advice, you might smile at them, give them a nod of acknowledgment and then walking away thinking “Thanks for that inspired pearl of wisdom, Plato. No idea how I could have continued life as I know it without that one!” Ahh, but there is much more to it than that in how Covey talks about it. Covey’s all about values being one of the true shaping forces for being a better person and a more effective one.
So that’s why this passage I read last night struck me:
The ability to subordinate an impulse to a value is the essence of the proactive person. Reactive people are driven by feelings, by circumstances, by conditions, by their environment. Proactive people are driven by values – carefully thought about, selected and internalized values.
Huh… never quite thought of it that way. If you are a values/principles-driven person (and I try like heck to be exactly that), being proactive is not just a matter of going out and doing things without being asked to or having the circumstances thrust upon you forcing you to act. It’s much more than that – it’s acting upon your values as opposed to being driven by your feelings and impulses and the circumstances around you since that is just reacting.
This strikes such a chord for me because it puts such great importance on not being reactive… because being reactive means I would be letting circumstances dictate what I do as opposed to my own set of carefully considered values. When you look at being proactive in that light, it goes well beyond the rather banal notion of just telling someone “You know… you really should be proactive.” It gets more to the heart of the WHY and the why is always the more powerful piece of the equation. What would be the sense of taking the time to carefully construct where you find meaning in life only to ignore all of that and let the world dictate to you? It’s the kind of thing that makes me re-check myself a bit because the cost to pay for wanting a values-driven life is eternal vigilence… and yes, I totally stole that Barry Goldwater line and tweaked it for myself. I make no apologies.
So dismiss not the simple… especially if it is backed up by a depth that may not be readily apparent at a casual glance. Those darn casual glances… always leaving the wrong impression.
Unlike this handsome fella – always leaves a good impression. (Not mine – just a houseguest until tomorrow).