The ABC’s of Professionalism
What do kids have to do with a series of essays about professionalism? Everything! Let’s start with legacy. A professional takes his legacy seriously, knowing his “self portrait” will create a ripple effect through multiple generations. Youth, especially those within his circle of influence, are influenced by what they see probably more than anyone will ever know.
“Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.”
— John W. Whitehead, The Stealing of America, 1983
“Young people need models, not critics…”
— John Wooden
“What we desire our children to become, we must endeavor to be before them”
— Andrew Combe
While children are especially aware of how adults manage their lives they also learn from their own experiences. Allowing children to participate with adults in challenging, real life situations is just as important as what they learn through observation.
“If you want children to keep their feet on the ground, put some responsibility on their shoulders.”
— Abigail Van Buren
“We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today.”
— Stacia Tauscher, Reader’s Digest Quotable Quotes, 1997, p. 57.
These are times influenced by the mindset that childhood and adolescence are periods of freedom from any real responsibility. “Let kids be kids — don’t rush them through their childhood.” reflects the predominant contemporary philosophy. As warm and fuzzy as this attitude seems, it is cheating our kids. There is a more significant role kids can and should be playing in the adult world long before they turn 21. If we don’t allow and encourage this, we are stealing their opportunities for success.
“Society doesn’t expect much of anything from young people during their teen years – except trouble. And it certainly doesn’t expect competence, maturity, or productivity.”
– Alex & Brett Harris, Do Hard Things, 2008, p.36.
“Do not handicap your children by making their lives easy.”
— Robert A Heinlein (1907–1988), American novelist, science fiction writer. Time Enough for Love, 1974, p. 270.
“Too many parents make life hard for their children by trying, too zealously, to make it easy for them.”
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
It’s a long and challenging process, making responsible adults from helpless infants. Raising children means loving and respecting them enough to make personal, continuous, and substantial investments in their lives.
“If you haven’t time to help youngsters find the right way in life, somebody with more time will help them find the wrong way.”
— Frank A. Clark
A generous portion of this investment can be in the form of good old-fashioned fun. Children are usually better at fun than adults. Before they get hooked on video games, kids will spend hours exercising their imaginations by playing make-believe games. (Maybe they don’t know this is part of the learning process.)
“Children find everything in nothing; men find nothing in everything.”
— Giacomo Leopardi (1798–1837), Italian poet, essayist, philosopher, philologist.
“There are no seven wonders of the world in the eyes of a child. There are seven million.”
— Walt Streightiff
“I always won in my imagination. I always hit the game-winning shot, or I hit the free throw. Or if I missed, there was a lane violation, and I was given another one.”
— Mike Krzyzewski
In the area of creativity, adults can learn from kids. In their spare time, adults could be engaging their minds with mental exercises instead of “vegging-out” in front of a television.
“That’s another thing, we made up games. We didn’t have equipment. When it snowed, we would play slow motion tackle football. We would play hockey, but we wouldn’t skate. We just made things up. I loved doing that.”
— Mike Krzyzewski
At the risk of sounding like an advocate for child labor camps and sweat shops, I propose that a healthy childhood should also include a substantial measure of work. Children are not helpless creatures. They deserve the opportunity to mature and learn responsibility through work experiences.
“Free the child’s potential, and you will transform him into the world”
— Maria Montessori
“Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right”
–– Bible, Proverbs 20:11
“If you want to see what children can do, you must stop giving them things.”
— Norman Douglas
Most kids are willing and even waiting to be challenged. When adults care enough to provide challenging opportunities, it is amazing to see how often kids meet our expectations. Set the bar low and that’s what they aspire to. Set it higher and they rise to meet it. How else do you explain 14-year old world class gymnasts, 18-year old world record holders, and teenage entertainment icons? Now, if we ever become as serious about our minds as we are about our sports and entertainment, watch out!
“Youth is a period of missed opportunities.”
— Cyril Connolly
Children are born with no fears — adults have many. Between birth and adulthood, something must happen to create fears where none existed at birth. The fact that we have the capacity for fear implies that it must have survival value. But, how many fears are irrational, unnecessary, and stifling? Which ones are caused by well-meaning parents trying to protect their children? How many could be avoided by helping children experience new things before they learn to be afraid?
“Fear always springs from ignorance.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Fear breeds fear.”
— Byron Janis
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
— Frank Herbert (1920-1986), American science fiction author. Dune, Litany Against Fear, 1965.
So, for the good of our children and the future of mankind, we need more adults to challenge our kids, nurture their creativity, and resist the temptation to shelter them from every difficult situation.
“In the final analysis it is not what you do for your children but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.”
— Ann Landers
There’s a second and perhaps less obvious reason for including youth in adult opportunities. Adults learn from kids. Children can introduce fresh creativity to a conversation. Their questions and comments can help adults see the world in a new light. A child’s innocent inquiry can cause an adult to rethink an old opinion or idea. Wouldn’t it be a powerful combination for adults to combine the benefits of their experience with the optimism and unconstrained creativity of a child?
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”
— Pablo Picasso
“A child can ask questions that a wise man cannot answer.”
— Author Unknown
“You can learn many things from children. How much patience you have, for instance.”
— Franklin P. Jones
“Children are unpredictable. You never know what inconsistency they’re going to catch you in next.”
— Franklin P. Jones
So, what should we do? Here are four practical suggestions for adults who accept their responsibility toward our youth.
Say “Yes!” to Youth — When a child asks to join the party, let him. When he wants to help clean the garage, find a way to include him. Of course, not every project or adult gathering is appropriate for every child. My observation is that the more wholesome an adult’s lifestyle, the fewer gatherings are off-limits to children.
Invite Youth — People are sometimes leery about asking to join in — kids more so because they have been trained to believe they don’t belong. Adults probably need to make the first gesture and always with sincerity. Not every invitation will be accepted. That’s okay. Treat that first invitation is an icebreaker and keep on inviting. When the kids in question are not your own, invite them several at a time. There is safety and comfort in numbers.
Engage Youth — When children are included, help them feel the value of their presence. Ignoring them or treating them like they are “in the way” is not very uplifting. Introduce them. Brag on them. Include them in the conversation. Let them join the fun. If it’s a work project, give them a task and the appropriate responsibility. Show them how to be successful. Praise their efforts and results and help them improve as necessary. Treat them like partners.
Join Hands With Youth — Kids really can contribute. When we create in ourselves and in the minds of our youth an attitude of partnership, they will respond accordingly. As they reach their objectives, raise the bar. Give them more responsibility. Help them find opportunities to branch out on their own toward larger challenges. For example, demonstrating proficiency in cutting grass in your own yard qualifies them to volunteer their skills for an elderly neighbor or start to a yard care business.
Please don’t misconstrue these four ideas. None of them is intended to imply that adults should forfeit their rightful status as authority figures in order to make friends with children. Folks who trade authority for friendship will always lose respect during the exchange. The professional approach requires preserving one’s roles as parent, teacher, mentor, and/or coach.
George Zimmerman taught music first throughout the City of Dayton public schools and later at the University of Dayton. Many thousands of people, I’m guessing, know George as a musician, artist, writer, entertainer, teacher, broadcaster, organizer, and/or a great cook. Many also knew him during their childhood and young adult years as a mentor and friend. He excelled in teaching people to appreciate music and theater. George was also fond of inviting college students, two or three at a time, to his home for a special meal and pleasant conversation. I remember his home being filled with photographs and other artifacts of his personal treasures. What are these treasures? To this day, George’s trademark of professionalism is displayed in the kids he’s taught, his treasures. His life has been dedicated to taking excellent care of them and helping preserve, enhance, and showcase their unique qualities. Our youth need more friends like George.
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
— Frederick Douglass
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