By Dr. Woody Sears
If you’re reading this, you owe someone back there a debt of gratitude for the advice, counsel, and concern-for-your-future invested in you. If someone cared enough about you to celebrate your successes but to be brutally honest when you screwed up, to refocus you when you lost your bearings or to kick you in the ass when you allowed a sour impulse to override your common sense, you were lucky.
You are living well today because someone, maybe several, became your mentor for a moment, a month, or for years. I am remembering my mentors with the hope that it will prompt you to remember yours — and your obligation to pass along to others those gifts that can only be repaid in kind.
It Can Happen In An Instant
Mentoring can happen in an instant, in a few well-chosen words, and initiate lasting and life-changing insights. Two people who became my heroes are celebrated here. Who knows? Maybe you will hear what I heard, and the impact of their words will continue to ripple across time and space.
Marriage, Money & Go Make Some More
Lori Eisenberg was my first marriage counselor. It was our second meeting alone. Between the first and second, she had met with my wife and then with both of us. She opened the meeting with stunning directness: “What have you got against getting a divorce?”
I was shocked into speechlessness. Finally, I stammered, lamely, “Well, it would cost a lot of money.”
And here is her world-class, life-changing response: “So, go make some more!”
Talk about cutting to the chase, knocking off the nonsense, and getting down to making decisions! That’s been more than thirty years ago, and the imperative to act, to decide, to quit equivocating, is still as powerful. I’ve remembered it at least weekly, and it has pushed me into maybe a thousand decisions. “So, go make some more!”
Her direct advice has been included in more than 200 lectures, and it’s always a surprise to people who want to wallow in the clouds of high-level abstractions instead deciding to get out OR to stay-in-and-make-it-better. With all due respect to the semanticists, sometimes either/or is the only honest, courageous decision.
What a gift! I pass it along to you.
A Nearly Famous Father
Fr. Joe Frazier, an Episcopal (Anglican) priest, was my second short-statement mentor. He had been nearly-famous as a member of the Chad Mitchell Trio. Their anti-establishment songs delighted Libertarians and those of the political left about the same time The Beach Boys and The Kingston Trio were enchanting the politically asleep.
He was making a pastoral call to my wife, who had terminal cancer. After suffering through three abdominal surgeries and three rounds of aggressive chemotherapy with attendant hair loss, she was angry and often lashed out. She looked at me, then at Joe, and like a verbal arsonist said, “I don’t think Woody is a Christian!”
Fr. Joe put out the fire in a six-word, world-class, life-changing response: “Is he taking care of you?”
I’ve spent at least a hundred hours thinking about that situation and the lessons implicit in it. His gentle way of cutting to the bottom line while bringing the single, most important issue to the surface, was a powerful intervention, worth studying, worth thinking about.
In another instance, Fr. Joe and I were discussing capital punishment. I was rolling out the usual pro-death-penalty arguments. Again, without heat, Fr. Joe changed my attitude, my values, and maybe my life with a few well-chosen words.
“I guess the death penalty would be okay if I could imagine Jesus pulling the switch. But I can’t!”
Of course, he was employing the rhetorical strategy of identifying an acknowledged standard to neutralize an argument, and it worked! I had to confront the duplicity in my values, and my trust in the man who had asked, in my behalf, “Is he taking care of you?”
Arrows to the Heart
These three interventions have been transformative. Each was weeks or months of tutorials distilled into less than a minute. They were clear, concise, and authentic; pointed, straight shots to the heart of the issue and to the heart of the recipient. They were as finely crafted as any piece of art, models of efficiency and effectiveness.
Where Does This Ability Come From?
Where does the ability to speak in such succinct, truth-telling terms originate? My guess it’s from integrating three separate skills: listening and attending acutely, reading the situational dynamics, and suspending judgment. Individually, these may be the most challenging of the interpersonal skills, and integrating them in a single moment is a great feat of personal discipline.
But when it happens, magic moments are possible.
I’ve seen the magic, and I’ve struggled for the discipline to replicate it. When I’ve been able to make it happen for others, I feel that I’m at my best – and repaying a debt to two remarkable mentors.
Author’s note: This is the last of 13 recollections of some of the Heroes in my life. Thanks for sharing them with me, and I hope you will take a few minutes to visit with the Heroes in your life .