Some years ago I had the opportunity to teach a group of teenagers. I conceived an object lesson. Since most of my six children were teenagers, I decided first to experiment on my own family. One night I called them together for a trial lesson. I said I had a common object in my possession; I wanted each person to handle the object and describe it without saying its name. I pulled an old basketball out of a bag and passed it around the room. Since all six children were basketball players, this was a familiar object. The first one said it was round and brown in color, then handed it to the next child. Each of my children was forced to work a little harder to come up with a unique description. Each had to pay attention to more fine-grained characteristics of the object.
It just so happened that the last child to get the basketball was my son Shawn. Shawn had always been more introverted than extroverted and has never been particularly verbal. He is tactile and tends to express himself physically. Playing basketball was a perfect medium for him. His position was point guard and he tended to play with great creativity. That night, he picked up the ball and looked at it. We expected him to struggle to come up with a word or two and then pass it on to his mother. Instead, he picked up the ball and slowly started to talk. He said the ball was an object that can bring people together and make them more than they are individually. His rhythm of expression increased in intensity. Soon he was waxing poetic about the object as the rest of us sat dumbfounded and inspired by all that he had to say.
Shawn’s performance had a powerful impact on all of us. I went to bed thinking about what he had said and the next morning I was still thinking about it. I decided to keep the object lesson, but change the topic of my planned lesson. When the time came to teach the teenagers, I repeated the exercise. When they finished describing the basketball, I told them about Shawn. I asked them to explain why he behaved as he did. They told me that he loved basketball. I asked them why he would love such an object. They gave a number of reasonable answers. I then asked them to take two minutes to list the objects about which they had similar feelings. Then I asked them to talk about their objects.
A young lady raised her hand and said, “This is how I feel about my flute.” She went on to describe sitting in her room and playing. She talked about her feelings and how she could express them. She talked about creating her own music. The teenagers in the room were unusually reverent in the face of this self-revelation.
Soon their were many hands in the air. They talked about ballet shoes, computers, and martial arts uniforms to name a few. Each person sat and listened with reverence. Why?
Reverence is the feeling we get in the presence of greatness. We feel respect, admiration, veneration, deference, awe, wonder, affection and esteem. Why does Shawn feel this way about a basketball when others do not? He sees beyond the surface of the object in to what the object offers.
With these objects, the teenagers have learned that they can co-create a greater self than the one that exists. With these objects they can contribute, seed the universe, and make it a better place through unique contribution. In these objects, they see the greatest potential of all, and this engenders reverence. The experience is so powerful that they are willing to reveal themselves and to transcend their own scripts and listen to others with reverence.
How does this story connect to your organization?
What can you do to create an environment of reverence where you work, and what value would that create?