TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - Being the father of a 6-year old boy in the first grade really makes a person stop and think.
Life perspective, seeing what’s really important, doesn’t have to be a complex array of philosophical theories or colorful charts and spreadsheets. We can obtain what we need by simply looking around and taking the opportunity to connect with our fellow humans.
Put down the cell phone and give it a rest while you pay more attention to the amazing activity in the tangible universe around us. Life is an evolving stream of episodes that shape us from infancy until the moment you read the words printed on this page. How an individual responds, outwardly and internally, should create an environment where self and others may thrive.
I’m a pretty simple person and constantly strive not to over-complicate matters in life, although some, whom I love dearly, may disagree. The ideas in Robert Fulghum’s book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, are incredibly basic to the positive influence we can all have on humanity.
As my wife and I raise our 6-year old son and I reflect on 21 years in the Air Force, I’m astonished at the impact the simplest concepts have on shaping young people and impacting the well-being of those around me.
Last weekend I taught my son how to throw a Frisbee and he and I can stand 10 yards apart and have a great time throwing it back and forth. A very “proud dad” moment, watching the Frisbee fly perfectly towards me over and over again.
My son then astonished me earlier this week with his maturity and helping instinct. We were outside playing in the street after work with our neighbors and their daughter, also six, and three-year old son. On this subsequent night, my neighbor’s son was really interested in chasing down the Frisbee and hurling it back to his dad and my son. As you can imagine, the three-year old’s technique was absolutely adorable, but lacked the finesse to create a catchable toss.
I watched as my son went into “dad mode” and proceeded to teach his young friend some proper technique. Resisting the urge to intervene as my son struggled to tear the Frisbee away from his tenacious young friend, my neighbor and I watched as our boys learned from each other. It wasn’t the most graceful of sessions and my son was probably a bit overbearing in his approach, which I internalized as a reflection of me and something I needed to work on, but after a few minutes we all watched intently as the little boy prepared to throw. As the Frisbee soared straight-and-level across the street and banged into the curb, we cheered and gave high-fives all around and both boys beamed with enthusiastic smiles. I don’t know if my son or his friend will remember that night beyond next month, but I hope they do. I’ll certainly bring it up and remind my son of what a great friend he was to share, teach, and play fair. Robert Fulghum would be proud. I know I was.
While there is no shortage of enlightening anecdotes from Fulghum’s book, I found equally prophetic and simple ideas that brought me back to struggles faced by our own Airmen.
One such passage read, “You may never have proof of your importance but you are more important than you think. There are always those who couldn’t do without you. The rub is that you don’t always know who.”
Reading these words was a recollection of Airmen, true friends, who I’ve seen struggle with depression, tragedy and life’s hardships. Somehow the weight of their problems was too much and despair turned them to drugs, alcohol and thoughts of self-harm.
In every situation it was friends, family, Wingmen and supervisors who became intimately involved and broke down defensive barriers to remind these hurting Airmen just how important, valued and loved they were to the people around them.
The reason why a person gets to that lonely place isn’t as important as what could have been done to prevent it from ever happening. Often it’s a positive, influential person’s willingness to enter into an uncomfortable position to help another that can break down a wall.
Avoiding someone at work, just because he or she seems unapproachable, certainly isn’t a positive way to build a team. Knowing someone is there to listen and not judge or give advice can be a light of hope that starts a person’s transition from solitary suffering to healthy, heartfelt emergence.
Maybe Fulghum should be credited for laying the foundation for what’s resulted in our current Green Dot program. It’s the unexpected people in our lives who possess the strong will and simple moral conviction to intervene in our lives when least expected, but most needed and shepherd us at times of weakness.
The ideas Fulghum presents can be extrapolated into complex, adult ideas and other authors have made millions doing so. Resist the urge to complicate matters and strive to understand the content and meaning so you can apply them in daily life.
We humans are social creatures and require positive and constant interaction to be at our best. Make the choice to be that bright spot when you see someone who may not be a the top of their game and know that people, both little and big, are always observing and being influenced by your presence whether you or they even realize it’s happening.
Each of us has the ability to make a simple and profound difference in the lives of others. Don’t be afraid and always keep it simple and meaningful.