The Ben Franklin Plan: Learn Something from Everyone You Meet

11Oct09
Portrait of Benjamin Franklin
Image via Wikipedia

In honor of Ben Franklin who focused on one virtue a month each year (plus humility, which he worked on all year round on the advice of a detractor), I’m working on one life principle each week from Sunday to Saturday. Will you join me?

This week’s life principle has the potential to delight you and educate you every single day.  It’s easy to do, costs nothing, and I’m not sure who benefits most in the doing:  you or the person you meet.

What’s truly magical, however, is how you will learn the most from those from whom you expect the least.  Which is a complicated way of saying that the people you think have the least to contribute to your life will often be the ones who blow you away.  That’s because it isn’t about the speaker.  It isn’t even about what is spoken.  It’s about what you hear.

A tiny example.

Let’s say you are in a business meeting with a co-worker who is physically challenged.  Maybe this person is in a wheelchair.  You reach out to retrieve an envelope the person drops from their lap.  But the person beats you to it, saying, “No thanks, I can get that.”  To your amazement the co-worker pulls out some gizmo – a stick with a little claw-like thing on the end of it – and snags that envelope and deftly puts gizmo and envelope back in her chair bag before you can insist further.

Let’s also say that you are willing to learn from every person you meet that day.  And let’s further assume that you are wanting to try something – maybe walk a half-marathon – and have hesitated because you are afraid you will fail.  Oh, you have lots of other great reasons, reasons any rational person would understand.  But, actually, it’s never about reasons, is it?

So, what would you learn from the person in the wheelchair with the handy-dandy retrieval system?  That there are work-arounds for challenges?  That you have to risk looking silly initially to look impressive ultimately?  Or maybe it’s less profound and more practical.  Maybe you learned to just do it.  Or when you drop something, anything, don’t look to others to take care of it, just retrieve.

Or maybe you learn that people, with far more hurdles than you, are moving forward everyday in ways that may be scary for them.  But you, on the other hand, are retreating.

Do you think it was easy for that person to pull out that gizmo in public the first time?  What looks now like a slick trick must have looked embarrassingly awkward at first.  What if the person pulled out her gizmo and still couldn’t grab the object?  Or had to take two or three passes to succeed, while some stranger, who would have been happy to help, looks on sympathetically?  Or, OMG, she ended up having to ask for help, after all?

So, on any given day, you may learn a new use for WD-40, which given how incredible WD-40 is, would be reason enough for you to run with this one.  But you may also learn courage and wisdom and grace under pressure, and different ways of looking at things, and …

Note:  Dare you to learn something from at least one person in every elevator ride.

Week 4:  Learn something from everyone you meet, every time, every day


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