Tuesday, October 25, 2011

It's OK to Fail?

I admit it; I haven't set foot in a grade school classroom for some time. I was surprised when I did go to visit a fifth grade teacher. The classroom was similar to what I remembered, there were desks and bulletin boards and a teacher's desk, but there were some things I didn't see - like a chalkboard, blue inked ditto papers and rows of desks. Instead I saw something called a "SMART board," "QR codes" and "clusters". This was not the world I was used to seeing in grade school.

I really wasn't prepared to hear the words, "It is OK if the student fails." Now I know that the teacher said something else after that, but I stopped listening at the "OK to fail" part. Now in my day it was unacceptable to fail. A student was expected to get it right - all the time. If my teacher had told my dad it was OK for me to fail - I cringe at the thought.

Now in all fairness to the teacher, the math program in use now is one that is designed to teach students key concepts over and over again. For example, algebraic equations are introduced one week and then re-taught each succeeding week. The theory is that the student may fail the first week the concept is taught, but through constant reinforcement, will eventually learn and master the concept. Hence, it is OK to fail in the short term, knowing that the student will succeed in the long term.

As I was driving home I was thinking how that is how it works in life. I did not hit the bull's eye the first time I shot my .22 rifle. I did not bowl a strike the first time. I did not sink a free-throw the first time, and the list goes on. Perhaps it is OK for the student to fail so they can succeed in the long run.

I like the concept, but there are limits. I really don't want my son to fail the first time he tries to stop a moving car at a red light.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Conduct Unbecoming

For those familiar with military parlance, the term "Conduct Unbecoming" brings to mind Article 133 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice: "Any commissioned officer, cadet, or midshipman who is convicted of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman shall be punished as a court-martial may direct." The military understands an officer has a solemn duty to avoid dishonest acts, displays of indecency, lawlessness, unfair dealings, indecorum, injustice or acts of cruelty. When an officer displays conduct contrary to his or her duty, they can be prosecuted. Although Article 133 is specific in its treatment of military officers, perhaps this code of conduct can be used as a standard for all of us, as we carry out our responsibilities according to our various positions.

What would our families look like if husbands, fathers, step-dads, grandfathers, or anyone else who takes on a father's role in a family put themselves under this sort of scrutiny? How would it be if those acting as fathers considered it their sacred duty to avoid dishonest acts, displays of indecency, lawlessness, unfair dealings, indecorum, injustice or acts of cruelty? What if our wives or children had the power to invoke Article 133 on their husbands and fathers?

What would our workplaces look like if every employee held himself to this kind of ethical code? Now most employers do have a form of Article 133 to cover "conduct unbecoming," but what if they never had to use it? What if the conduct of employees rendered such a code obsolete?

Regrettably, this doesn't sound much like our world, does it? While that may be the case, I would add we've probably all seen the shining exceptions too. And if we haven't seen one, then perhaps we've read about men who live such exemplary lives, others can't help but want to imitate them.

In the tradition of such men, I would encourage all of us to consider how our words and deeds and thoughts reflect our conduct. With every action we leave an impression. Is our conduct unbecoming or does it bear the stamp of a life worth pursuing?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Power of Brothers

A quick review of the word "brother" reminds us that our brothers are those we share a common parent with or who share with us a common tie or interest. It is indeed important for us to celebrate our brothers, for without our brothers we would not be able to stretch our worldviews, challenge our actions or have someone who can stand with us.

I have been blessed by two brothers who have the same parents as me. As we were growing up it was my brothers who were always there. Whenever we moved into a new neighborhood, my brothers provided the social interaction I needed. As we grew, my brothers were there to provide instant feedback on how I looked, acted or drove. Their honest appraisal saved me from many a fashion faux pas, inappropriate action and, of course, traffic tickets. When I messed up, they offered words of comfort and care. The older I am, the more I appreciate and lean on my brothers.

I have been blessed by brothers who share a common interest or tie with me too. There are men who share a relationship with me through my wife -- my brothers-in-law. They love their sister enough to honor her love for me by allowing me into their lives. Our tie is not by blood, but is as strong as if we were joined by a common ancestor. I also appreciate my brothers-in-law; they have stood with me in trials, and they have taught me valuable lessons.

I have been blessed by other brothers who have become my brothers through trials or shared experiences, such as facing a common enemy, working for the same goal or sharing a work environment. These men also have stood with me through those dark times in my life, providing the support and strength I needed to move to the next stage in my life. Some of my brothers are keepers of my secrets and trust me enough not to repeat theirs. Some of my brothers are wise men I can ask for and receive words that instruct and inspire. These generous men are not shy about sharing their experiences and their wisdom. When they do, I -- and the company I keep -- all benefit.

In a world as vast as the one in which we live, it's a remarkable thing to have a brother -- blood or otherwise -- who is there for us through thick and thin and loves us enough to keep coming back for more.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Never Too Old - Never Too Young

I admit I was one of the million-plus people that watched the movie Courageous this past weekend. As I settled into the theater seat beside my wife -- it was our date night -- I was struck by the wide age-range of people seated around us. There was a church group of men and women, a few grandparents scattered about, some dads sitting with their families, and others -- all waiting for the show to begin. The lights dimmed, the speakers crackled a bit and I settled in, ready to be entertained and challenged.

The movie did just that too, as it was fun to watch and got me thinking. I will refrain from sharing the plot, but I would like to share some of its challenge.

I came away from the movie with the thought that one is never too old or too young to have a meaningful conversation about one's life journey. Each of us has a story to share -- one that has shaped who we are today. Some can share about the death of a family member; some can talk about being fired from a job; some can offer revelations about temptations that seemed impossible to resist; some can reveal how their life path was permanently altered by the influence of a parent. We are who we are today because of what has happened to us in the past. It doesn't matter what our age is. We have all been shaped by people and circumstances that have come into our lives.

I think it's important we share our story, if for no other reason than to give permission to others to share their story with us. As we tell our story -- especially if we are men of faith -- we can instruct and uplift our brothers by relating how God has been at work in our life. Sure, it can be risky disclosing our weaknesses and failings, but there's an upside to this honesty: we understand our situation more clearly and our brothers gain from our experience, just as we gain from theirs.

There was encouragement in knowing there are men out there who have struggled with temptations and experiences like I have. I thank them for sharing their story with me for it empowered me to do the same with others. As a result, I resolve to share my story with those who will listen. I hope you will do the same.

One is never too young or too old to learn from a good story.