A friend of mine commented, after 15 years, that he’d finally figured out what it was about me that he liked. I wasn’t sure whether to be pleased that there was something he liked, or to be disappointed that it took him so many years to figure it out. Either way, what he said struck a chord and so I share it with you.
“You know how to recognize quality, and you press yourself and everyone around you toward it.”
During the summer of 2007, another friend commented, “you immediately find the flaws in things, but you go beyond that. You suggest ways to fix the flaws, too. And not just one way, but two or three ways to do it better, and all before anyone else realizes there’s even a problem.”
Both sentiments, I’d like to think, are true and I wish I’d thought to say them about myself years ago.
A lifetime ago, while I was a student at Hampshire College, I was accused by a dear friend of being too complex to get along with. I thought about that for a long time and didn’t like that I could be perceived that way. I understood that others sometimes seemed frustrated with the level of precision to which I tried to adhere, but I tended to think of myself as overwhelmingly consistent, driven by a simple set of principles. So, I distilled my thinking into an elegant set of rules that provided insight into my personality and my expectations for anyone who was interested. My close friends recite them to this day:
- If you’re going to break the rules, don’t be obnoxious about it.
- Don’t disappoint me.
- Be aware.
(For those keenly interested, I’ve been willing to expand upon #2 and #3.)
I realize that I am a demanding person, but not unreasonable, I think. I demand that my friends be aware of their influence, of their communities, and of the world. I demand that they be engaged, both intellectually and practically. I demand that they be willing to improve themselves and their communities and, ideally, to help me do the same.
At the heart of my world view are the following questions:
- How will this make me better at what I do?
- How will this make my charges (students, e.g.) better at what they do?
- How will this make my community better?
If I can’t articulate answers to those questions, then I need to reconsider carefully the work I’m doing or requiring others to do. I wish more people would use these measures as the standard for taking action.
I long ago adopted a policy of giving everything I can afford to give, never expecting to get it back, and never giving anything I couldn’t afford. After the mitzvah, everything else is a bonus.
This blog is an attempt to capture some of the ideas I have on quality, on teaching, on community, and on the practical tools we’re all using. As a side benefit to me, this blog will give me the opportunity to refine my writing. I hope that it will also challenge you to think carefully about how you approach the world and what you’re willing to do to make yourself and your communities better.