Croskey’s Corner: Attentiveness
At least since Sleepless in Seattle, and no doubt long before, Americans have taken an interest in that city’s Pike Place Fish Market. Scenes of fish flying (being thrown, actually) through the air, performances with fish as ventriloquist dummies, these and others have become common place. Besides serving as a featured location in the Tom Hanks film, the business has shown up in countless Food Network film clips, and inspired a business morale booster book called FISH! This book came about after John Christensen, a leader of motivational programs, visited the Market and noticed that the attitude of the employees seemed unusually positive. He, Stephen C. Lundin, and Harry Paul developed a motivational video along with the series of books to describe the FISH! Philosophy. Charthouse Learning http://www.charthouse.com/content.aspx?nodeid=16741 has expanded these ideas into a program and materials for schools. Now educators can turn throwing fish into a way to teach Character to students.
The Four principals from the FISH! Philosophy are (1) Choose your attitude. (2) Play. (3) Be there. (4) Make their day. The book Schools of Fish!, written by Christensen, along with Phillip Strand and Andy Halper, provides ideas for educators to demonstrate to students and to staff what the philosophy looks like in action. Real-life examples are provided where schools encourage choosing a positive attitude, having fun while you learn, being an Attentive learner, and providing meaningful, flow-like experiences which can make learning memorable. My wife and her teaching colleagues adopted the FISH! Philosophy for their team. One quarter they showcased Being There by having students invite the family member or friend who had always Been There for that student to be honored at a Be There Breakfast. Another quarter, the students had great fun throwing a real fish – half as long as some of them! – back and forth in a hilarious example of Play. Choosing Your Attitude was a daily goal, but was illustrated when the classes collected coats for those who could not afford them. The culminating activity was a visit to a retirement and assisted living facility where the students played cards with the residents, gave them and-made gifts, or just sat and talked in a successful attempt to Make Their Day. Needless to say, the students often Made Their OWN day through these activities!
I was explaining the FISH! Philosophy to my Xavier students as a way to provide learning and growth experiences for the Whole Child. As my students reflected on the tenets of the Philosophy, one offered the opinion that Being There was perhaps the most difficult of the four to put into action. That reminded me in turn of the Character Quality of the Month, Attentiveness. Indeed, the hardest part of Attentiveness may be to Be There. There is more to giving someone my undivided concentration than eye contact, actively listening and questioning, showing attentive body language, and not fidgeting. So, I got to pondering Being There.
Woody Allen said something like 80% of success in life is showing up. That has turned into the comment, “Fifty percent of life is showing up.” Is that what Being There for people has come to – just showing up part of the time? I don’t think that is all there is to being Attentive.
Or consider the 1979 film called Being There. In it, Peter Sellers plays a gardener named Chance. He is so naïve and simple that when he says something entirely superficial, the public thinks he is uttering brilliant pronouncements. It has a kind of “Emperor’s New Clothes” feeling about it. Leonard Maltin says this film is full of “savagely witty comments on American life.” But Chance is full of … not much. I think Character First! expects more out of our Attentiveness than just simple-minded observations.
In fact, I think Being There for people is a lot of work. There’s a good deal of overlap here with Patience. It seems like the general consensus is that Patience is a gift that some people have been given. Not true. Patient people want to end the waiting, move on to something more stimulating, take care of their own needs. But discipline makes them wait. Faith makes them put off their needs and listen, believing it will pay off with insights for the speaker, and for them. Real Patience is making a conscious decision to delay personal gratification and to hit the Pause button. Well, Being There Attentively is the same. To Be There fully is to re-prioritize one’s own needs. I have to say to myself, “Right now, my own wants and needs are second. I am going to ignore what I wish I could do. Instead, I am going to sit near this person, look at them, ignore distractions, forget my electronic devices, ignore my desire to eat or drink or flee, and I am going to listen as if my understanding of what I hear is life-changing.” Because, it is! You know how it feels when someone else listens Attentively to you! You know how great it is when someone cares enough to Be There. Well, wouldn’t you like to return the favor? You can. It takes discipline, Patience, and faith. You and the one who is benefiting from this will Both be glad you did.