When we moved to Charlotte in 1994, I accepted a job at a large bank as the manager of the Commercial Training Program. To you non-bankers, it may sound like a stuffy office job. It was actually great fun. Not only did I get to participate in hiring the latest crop of college graduates, but they were placed in my care for 12-18 months of training and development. My charge was to ensure that by the end of that time, they had received all of the coaching, training, information and experience needed to be able to assess the health of a company, negotiate and sell bank products, and manage the entire banking relationship for a portfolio of companies.
I was fortunate enough to partner with a rather progressive consulting company that developed day-long seminars for specific topics. The owner of the company was a former therapist, and her unique methodology was born from her experiences in the counseling office. She understood how people learned. She knew the difference between short-term understanding and life-long, rooted learning. One of the most impactful seminars that we utilized was “The Lemonade Stand Game.”
The goal of “The Lemonade Stand Game” was simple. At the end of the day, “players” would have received an entire semester’s worth of general accounting principles, and they would be able to remember and apply those principles in real-life situations. The set up: an actual grown-up version of a lemonade stand, sign, pitchers and all. The game started by participants buying sugar, water, ice, etc. needed for the stand. They were given a small amount of cash, but had to borrow the remainder needed for set-up. And then of course, the participants sold lemonade. With the cash they collected, they saved some, paid off a portion of the debt, and used the remainder for additional purchases. Within hours, The Lemonade Stand Game had taken a safe, familiar concept and had used it to build a framework on which could be hung more difficult, complex concepts. By the end of the day, the players had effortlessly absorbed far more accounting than many of us had retained from several college courses.
Why? The Lemonade Stand Game had taken a non-threatening, familiar, and safe concept and had used it to build a common framework. This framework was etched in the minds of the players (really… who could ever forget playing “lemonade stand” in the middle of corporate America?), and it provided a starting point from which other more complex concepts could be hung. We were surprised by the vast degree of learning that took place with little to no effort.
Good books work in much the same way.
~We can interact with them at our own pace (and without fear of rejection or judgement), so they are safe. Our defenses come down and we are in a much more “teachable”place.
~Books utilize common ground. We bring to them our predispositions and our experiences. They don’t mind. They begin their work in us where we are. We strive to identify with the characters, their situations, their hopes, fears and dreams. Much like meeting a new friend and scrambling to find commonalities, we automatically look for ways to connect. It is then that story can have access to impact the deepest parts of our soul.
~The scaffolding of new (or changing) perceptions, ideas, and emotion is often constructed without our awareness. Days, weeks, and even years after the last page is read, we are surprised every time by the random, yet significant ways a story can continue to have impact. It changes us forever, by subtly shaping how we view the world, and how we view ourselves.
Well-written story can take many forms. It is sneaky. It gets inside my heart and my head without my being immediately aware. Then the lessons learned pop up unexpectedly for years to come.
Here are a few examples of books that have recently influenced the shaping of my mind and my heart:
Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (non-fiction)
Infidel is an autobiography of a Somalian woman who eventually fled both her country and her family’s religious and cultural beliefs. I began reading Infidel to glean further understanding of the Islamic culture. Our family has been involved with a Somalian refugee family for several years. We’ve visited with the 8 of them in the living room of their small, 2 bedroom apartment. We’ve heard the horror stories including their midnight flight (on foot) through the jungle to Kenya. Our children have grown up as friends. I wanted to understand their culture in a more meaningful way. But… I was not prepared for the substantial, disruptive impact that this Muslim woman’s true story would have in my own life. As I read her observations and criticisms of her own culture, I was challenged to look at my own beliefs with new eyes. I was stopped to consider how my own upbringing and environment had shaped my perspective of family, loyalty, and religion. As I’m currently reading through Nomad, her sequel, the healthy disruption continues.
The Trunk by Elizabeth Coatsworth (fiction)
Although this book is hard to find, it’s worth the hunt. The narrative of The Trunk unfolds through the eyes of a woman who follows her artist-husband to the jungle in order to support his dreams. It ultimately reveals that the individual lens through which we each see the world greatly colors, and yes distorts, the reality of others’ characters and actions. I was drawn to the adventurous story and the author’s startling insight into relationships. I was not prepared for the extent to which the jarring twists (and truths) at the end would reflect and reveal troublesome inclinations in my life and view of others. The Trunk left me wondering what it would be like to watch a video of my life, only from God’s perfect perspective, not my own. How would I view others differently? Myself? My marriage? Friendships?
Tales of the Kingdom by David and Karen Mains (children’s fiction)
In particular, the story of “Princess Amanda and the Dragon.” A hauntingly accurate picture of our subtle slide into seduction. We make small, seemingly insignificant compromises that take root and grow in our hearts until they become too big to tame. I come back to this story again and again, and it quietly creeps up in my conscience when I take the first steps in hiding and nurturing my own “baby dragons” that eventually outgrow my ability to tame them. More on that story another day.
So, as we come to the close of the summer, let us not leave behind the magic of chasing fireflies, swimming pools, and lemonade stands. There are worlds yet to be explored, friends yet to meet, and “things yet to be thunk”… all to be found in the pages of a good book.