It was just days before the beginning of the school year. While I put on a good game face, there was no doubt that I was anxious about the first day of middle school. I had heard multiple terrifying stories about how sixth graders were treated. As the hours ticked down and my nervousness ratcheted up, I decided to ask a friend’s older brother for some advice. He was always nice to me and on a few occasions he had shared some of his wisdom with me.
His words, “Accept your position. Don’t act like you know what’s going on – watch, listen and learn. And be friendly with the school secretary and the janitor – they know everything and can get you out of a lot of messes.”
All good counsel, and very helpful navigating the early days of middle school. Yet the most surprising, and in the end most important, recommendation was in regards to the secretary and the janitor. Both of these individuals were seen by most folks as functional support staff. However, the reality was no one had a handle on the pulse of the school like these two. And there was the actual great life lesson: who, because of bias, am I ignoring or over looking that in fact has a great deal of wisdom?
Recently I was working with an organization and its brand new leader. Right out of the gate the new leader made it crystal clear whose opinion and perspective who they would be listening to and who they would not. With one statement the leader not only showed their clear bias but denigrated and diminished at least a quarter of the people in the organization. As you might imagine things have not gone well for said leader.
It was yet another reminder that when we’re only willing to listen to, and be open to learning from, a certain group of people we lose out on so much wisdom. Different experiences, perspectives, world views, culture and context of origins all possess a wisdom beyond our own.
Tax collectors, the woman at the well, and so many others that were seen as the edge of unacceptable were folks Jesus of Nazareth always gravitated toward. There is a richness in these encounters that is filled with timeless wisdom.
I am ever grateful for the recommendation to get to know the janitor and the secretary. It began my awareness to check my bias about who I’m not listening to and my need to course correct. Subsequently, I have gained so much wisdom from bell hops, roadies, servers and quiet people in the corner.
“Perhaps one of the most precious and powerful gifts we can give another person is to really listen to them, to listen with quiet, fascinated attention, with our whole being, fully present.” – Kay Lindahl