Friday, November 21, 2008

Strengths and Weaknesses

I'm in the process of reading Marcus Buckingham's The Truth About You in preparation for a review I'm doing for Thomas Nelson Publishers.

I'll have more to say about the book when I've finished reading it, but I bring it up prematurely here to mention the challenge it raises in the first few pages. In general, Buckingham writes to motivate his readers in achieving personal success - an easily overworked and "tired" topic, but he makes one unexpected turn when he approaches the notion of strengths and weaknesses not measured by what you do well or do poorly but by actions or activities that make you feel strong when you're doing them or conversely feel drained, diminished when you're doing them.

So, I've asked myself for some days now, what am I doing when I feel strong, capable, and in command? Try it. Coming to an answer was not nearly so easy for me as I imagined it would be.

Then today, I continued my reading in Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and found this gem - a single, short line describing Phaedrus that spoke to me and pointed to the answer I'd been looking for:

"For Phaedrus, failure to understand something created a tremendous interest ... "

There it is: When do I feel strong? What am I doing when I feel my greatest strength? I am confronting something I don't understand.

I do many things well - we all do, so read me aware as you pass these words, but I am at my best when I engage what I don't know. I think of horse whisperers who converse with the beautiful lying just beyond wild resistance, and I know myself there - whispering and whispered to by ideas daring to defy being known. I am calculating, strategic, tenacious, and patiently determined - God, I love it! ... the best game in town!

The "... failure to understand something create[s] a tremendous interest ..." in me. In this place I am strong.

update (three days and a few pages later):

Pirsig explores Phaedrus' "fanatic intensity" and willingness to "burn one's self out, day after day" to learn more about the processes of reason and the substance of (T)ruth. Pirsig culminates several pages of developing his thoughts with this:
"You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They knowit's going to rise tomorrow. When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogmas or goals, it's always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt ....

That's probably why he felt such a deep kinship with so many failing students in the back rows of his classrooms. The contemputous looks on their faces reflected the same feelings he had toward the whole rational, intellectual process. The only difference was that they were contemptuous because they didn't understand it. He was contemptuous because he did. Because they didn't understand int they had no solution but to fail and for the rest of their lives remember he experience with bitterness. He on the onther hand felt fanatically obliged to do something about it ... He was telling them you have to have faith in reason because there isn't anyting else. But it was a faith he didn't have himself" (emphasis mine).
In the kingdom of man, you have to have faith in reason because you have to have faith in something, and even if reason, in fact, does not merit your faith, there is nothing else - maybe, nothing "better."

Reach past the kingdom of man to take in the rest of the story - the kingdom beyond, if you will allow this consideration, and I will suggest with similarity to Phaedrus that "you have to have faith in [God] because there isn't anything else." I hold this position with a similar limp in my own conviction, however, while I nonetheless argue "intensely" for this faith - an intensity informed by the limp itself - as the best answer to a problem that wants an answer and the most reasonable answer to hold.

... food for thought.


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