Since 1977, I have been sending out a newsletter called LEARNINGS. Here is how I began the first issue:
This newsletter—LEARNINGS—is my way of sharing with you what I am learning. Often I learn something with one client that would have been useful with another client the day before. In order to bridge that gap of time and also to bridge the gap of space that separates me from clients and other friends outside Cleveland, I will share my learnings with you regularly in this newsletter.
That statement feels amazingly accurate more than 35 years later. The only real change is that I moved from Cleveland to London and then on to the Crook of Devon in Scotland.
In the earlier newsletters, I shared one or two learnings each time. Then I read a wonderful book by Michael Phillips called The Seven Laws of Money. He describes the Taoist approach to creating Seven Laws about anything.
I like that approach except that instead of announcing Laws, I prefer to share Learnings. I’ve now discovered Seven Learnings about all sorts of things, including Journaling, Love, Retreat, and Diversity. The latest Learnings starts here; the rest are in the Learnings Archive.
LEARNING: I am still learning from my father.
My father is eighty years old this month. And this edition of Learnings is dedicated to him.
There is a long list of specific things I have learned from Dad. I learned from him how to make a one-match fire. I learned the names of trees. I learned that peace and moderation are real possibilities. I learned that women are equally important in this world. (Dad will be relieved to know that I have already written the first draft of next March’s newsletter to celebrate my mother’s eightieth birthday.)
I learned to write from both Mom and Dad; they will be pleased but not surprised to know that this is the seventh draft of this newsletter. When I would show Dad a school paper I was writing he would put his hand over an unclear sentence and ask what I meant. I couldn’t pry his fingers up so I had to tell him out loud. He would then say, “Fine. Write that.”
What continues to amaze me is that Dad is still learning. He has always been my financial and legal adviser – from the time he taught me basic accounting to run my paper route. Now he is helping me run an international consulting company and yet he can still say to me, “I don’t know that answer to that; I’ll have to find out.”
Dad went into hospital this spring for a series of operations that eventually led to the amputation of his left leg just below the knee. When I went home for a few days in June, I drove him out to the rehabilitation centre for one of his physical therapy sessions. Two things stay with me from that day. First, he was learning very basic things about how to balance himself and how to walk again with his artificial leg. He was making great progress because he was so keen to learn.
The second thing I remember from that day is that as we drove out and back we discussed plans for involving my associates more closely with Castle. Based on his experiences within his own firm and in advising many other firms, Dad made several very specific suggestions.
So he was demonstrating both his wisdom and his eagerness to learn. I think of Chaucer’s clerk: “And gladly would he learn, and gladly teach.” I am more and more convinced that my own work of helping others to learn is only effective to the extent that I am willing to learn as well.
Anyone in my family would tell you that there was only one choice as a title for this newsletter. More than fifty years ago, Dad gave a speech entitled Vision and Precision. I have just re-read it and the point is clear. Whether we are dealing with family, with education, with business, with the law, with the church, with world peace, or with planting trees (and Dad has devoted his life to each of those), we must have a vision. “But what intervenes between dream and reality? Precision-microscopic precision.” That is what Dad said fifty years ago. He has been saying it – and living it – ever since.
Years ago I came up with a statement that has become the essence of my work: A Goal Is A Dream Taken Seriously. That statement is on every Dream Check, it is the title of the career development poster that I published several years ago, and it is the final image (superimposed on a castle) in every workshop that I lead. It was only recently that I realised that I had simply rephrased Dad’s idea of vision and precision.
So that is why I had tears in my eyes when he told me last week that he is cashing the Dream Check I gave him last summer. His dream then was “To walk with a cane.” He has now, as he puts it, “graduated” from physical therapy and is walking with a cane.
But Dad has learned more than how to walk again. He has also learned to share his emotions more openly. When we were children he used to give us “bear hugs” but those stopped as we grew up. Now he has learned to hug again. And sometimes tears and a hug say all that can be said.
At the same time that Dad is sharing his feelings more, he is also doing something equally remarkable. For more than a year I had been urging him to buy a computer. On the last morning of my August visit he decided to buy one. We got it set up before I left. For several days afterward, I was on the phone talking him through the early difficulties. Now he sends me beautifully-printed letters and he has started a history of his law firm.
So in his eightieth year, Dad has been learning to use a computer, learning to hug again, and learning to walk again.
When I was home in June, Dad and I were sitting on the front porch after supper. He told me about his sisters coming to visit him and as they left, he overheard one say to the other, “Doesn’t Dean look like his father now?”
As my remaining hair gets grayer, it is clear to me that I will eventually look like Grandad and Dad. But I would also hope that over the years I will continue to learn about vision and precision, that I will continue to learn about myself and others, and that I will continue to learn about this universe we live in. Because what I would like to overhear someone say about me is this: “Doesn’t Walt learn like his father now!”
LEARNING: I learn the most from someone who is learning with me.