Sunday, April 18, 2010

Influence and Education

I fell asleep this afternoon without intending to – a sure sign of being tired if there ever was one. Longer hours at work have been nice, since I've had the opportunity to have a major impact on our projects at the MTC, but they've also been draining. My uncle also had a late-into-the-night birthday party during the week, an aunt had a pre-marathon party, and I got home late last night from a date. So I guess there are plenty of reasons to be tired. At least for today I've made the commitment to go to sleep at a reasonable hour. Which means writing while the sun is still up instead of staying up until two in the morning.

I've had some interesting experiences this week. Wednesday morning I woke up and began singing (as is customary) and, while leaving the apartment, noticed little blue paper notes on the outside of my neighbor's doors. Something about the stairwell at my complex has always made me want to sing, so, still singing a song from Phantom of the Opera, I turned and found the same note on my door. It was an invitation to a Relief Society activity, and I turned back to the stairwell. Then, suddenly, the door across from mine flew open and a woman in her late thirties cried out, “You! You have an amazing voice. I need to know your name! Come in! Come in!” She ushered me into her apartment, which was a bit messy; what hit me first, though, was a row of 6 well-cared-for potted plants in the middle of the room. Everything but the plants was in chaos. “You must think I'm crazy for living in a house this messy. I'm crazy to live in a house like this. How could anyone live in a house like this? I'm sorry. I need to get a piece of paper. Don't go away.” She rummaged through a drawer and found a piece of paper and a marker, then asked, “What's your name? Are you a missionary?” I was dressed for work, which includes a suit, tie, and a white name tag, so I smiled. “No – I just work at the MTC.” I gave her my name, and she tried to explain why she needed it, but in her anxious & excited state I was only able to catch something about Sandra Bullock, Christ, miracles, and a story. As I left, the Lord told me I had just been involved in a missionary experience... I just have no clue what it means yet.

A friend at Institute has had a massive rash for the last month. Her doctors put her on intense medications and were still unable to treat it. I suggested that she change her diet – eliminate sugars, fats, and empty carbs – and she took me seriously. Today in Church she was smiling and rash-free; the culprit was probably a daily ice cream shake from her new workplace.

And then, as I was leaving work on Friday, I talked with one of my managers. His office is the home of “the candy drawer” - a drawer that, for years, has stayed full of candy no matter how much you take out, and to which everyone is invited and entitled at any point in time. I don't think I need to share my deepest feelings as regards the drawer. He mentioned that he had recently felt promptings telling him to live more healthily. Even more amazing – he had already made plans to act on the promptings, from getting a bike to buying fruit to bring with him to work. He then let me in on a secret: the candy drawer just received its last refill before death by attrition. Wow. Miracles happen every day.

I signed up for a Human Resources training this week and I've been reading a book to prepare for the class. The book is titled Influencer and is really interesting. It suggests vital behaviors that enable people to make an impact in others' lives and how to implement them into change models: Focus on a few vital behaviors that will achieve the result you need, then use a variety of motivational and enabling methods to help change happen. As I read, I was able to see how true the principles are, and how I've unwittingly applied them already. Over the last year, I've had plenty of opportunities to share why I eat healthily and to invite others to do the same. But a year of lunchtime platitudes has done very little except instill a mild sense of guilt in my coworkers – because, in their hearts, they didn't believe that eating healthily was worth it. Or they didn't believe it was possible. Taking healthy food with me each day – and helping them to have their own positive experiences eating healthily on a daily basis – has suddenly changed my workplace. People bring carrots and apples and a healthy lunch; others are spending more time exercising and drinking more water. The book explains how telling stories, and allowing others to experience their own stories, is a hundred times more useful than simply verbally telling information.

I can see other applications: helping friends make life changes, helping missionaries to change their paradigm in the curriculum we are writing, and, ultimately, changing the world of education. Someday, along with 3rd-party assessment tools that will enable students to choose their own courses in life, I'll create classrooms where students are taught by students – and where students who have learned just a bit more are held accountable to the success of the students they teach. In a system like that, there would never be problems with too much teacher-directed class time. There would never be issues of whether something was good for a student or plausible for a teacher. And, by making students into teachers, students would learn more than ever before. Obviously it would have to be carefully crafted... and require a major shift in culture. But I think it will be possible. Someday.

Recent events have shown me an interesting turn in my life: for the first time, I am studying things I never wanted to learn, including behavioral psychology. It, along with political science and law, was the only thing I ever “knew” I didn't want to study... and I have always avoided it like the plague. Part of my avoidance of psychology was a fear that, if I really understood how people acted and why, I would automatically become manipulative and treat people like 'patients' that needed curing instead of really caring about them regardless of the outcomes. In the years that have passed, I've learned how to better love the people around me, and now I find myself reading through social science reports, summarizing findings from journal articles, and applying social science principles to my life to help me be a better influence in the world around me. Am I afraid that maybe it will backfire and push me further away from the people I love? Of course I am – nothing terrifies me more. But that means that I'll always have to rely on the Lord... and, with Him at my side, I can't go astray.

So the lessons I am learning are similar to the ones I learned last week – learn to love everything, be a good example, and help others make changes in their lives themselves. If I had possessed the executive power to ban junk food from the face of the earth, a year ago I would have done it. Today, I feel like I do have that power – the power to help people make better choices and become who they really want to be – all I need to do is use it. I know that God loves us, and that He placed us here, in life, among one another. He could change us... and put us in situations where we would have to choose the right, but, instead, He entreats us, blesses us, encourages us, and helps us along the road to righteousness. I think we can all do the same in our everyday lives with others – be a friend, a helping hand, a listening ear, a kind gesture, a loving embrace. And then the people will come closer to Christ – of their own accord. I know that God lives. He sent His Son for us, and He will guide us in accomplishing His work. The work is moving forward. Go out and be missionaries!

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