I was raised in a small town, population 900, in west central Ohio. Along with my parents, that small town, its citizens, the Methodist Church, and our local school taught me my values. They established my value system through their words, actions, and deeds. Over the years, I have learned that what we value says a great deal about us as individuals. How we demonstrate our values reflects the true measure and depth of that valuing.
Let me explain. I have great respect for education and for the privilege of being educated. My respect is demonstrated by the fact that I continued to “attend” school daily for forty-five years as a career educator. Initially, my education began in a one-building school housing all grades one through twelve. Now, it was not a one-room schoolhouse, but it was a single building.
Although my education in that small school located in my small hometown was not very comprehensive, it was sincere. Once I enrolled in college, I realized the significant gaps that existed in my rural school curriculum, especially in the areas of composition and literature. I struggled mightily during my freshman year at The Ohio State University, but I eventually graduated with majors in English and speech and a minor in drama. I never blamed the local school or any of the teachers for my limited college prep curriculum. I simply figured the reputations of writers like Shakespeare, Dante, Ibsen, Tolstoy, Dickinson, Frost, Hemmingway, Faulkner, etc., just never made it as far as rural west central Ohio.
But, to be honest, it did take a few years in the elementary grades before I began to value education and my teachers. I wasn’t always a model student. I’m uncertain how I might have been diagnosed back then, as an overly-active young boy, within the expanding terminology of today’s child psychologists. But, I’m guessing I would have been charted as being a bit hyper, unruly, and immature. I’m also not certain what might have been used to sedate me then, but I am fairly sure that a licensed specialist would have prescribed something tranquilizing for me and soothing for my teachers.
Fifth grade was truly one of my outstandingly smart-alecky years, and I’m afraid I was pretty much of a teacher’s nightmare. Lynn Shultz sat at the desk in front of me, and Mrs. Curl, our usually composed fifth-grade teacher, kept a sharp eye on him. Lynn was one of those guys who looked guilty even when he had nothing to look guilty about. One day Paul Whitehead belched while Mrs. Curl was writing our weekly spelling words on the chalkboard, and she turned immediately to blame innocent Lynn. She marched right up to his desk, leaned down, and demanded he excuse himself. Lynn declared he’d done nothing to be excused for, but Mrs. Curl scowled and barked out that she was going to give him one more chance. She then leaned down closer to him, looking even scowlier.
Her menacing manner caused Lynn to quiver, and I reacted with one of the dumbest moves of my elementary school life. I reached up and bonked Mrs. Curl on the head with the eraser end of my stout, heavy-duty yellow pencil. I bonked her on the head like a thumped cantaloupe; bonked her on the head like a big bass drum; bonked her on the head like I was reflex-testing a knee; bonked her head like we were two of the three stooges.
I think I stunned Mrs. Curl because for a few seconds she went wide-eyed and gape mouthed. My classmates also went wide-eyed and gape mouthed, and no one blinked, almost like they had been collectively bonked on their heads as well. Then, in one swift motion, Mrs. Curl, in Curly-like fashion, grabbed the pencil from my clenched little hand and bonked me on the head. “Ouch, what are you doing? That hurts!” I wanted to yell, but I knew better and took my punishment like a little man.
Lynn Shultz then apologized for doing nothing, Paul Whitehead breathed a sigh of belch-less relief, and I didn’t rub the growing knot on my head until recess. Mrs. Curl, God bless her, never told my parents, and I did become less of a smart aleck. I honestly believe that was the defining moment when I began to value my education and all the bonks on the head that come with being educated.
So, I value education and show it by having dedicated my life to a profession I love. What do you value? How do you show it?
I value serving others. In the words of Matthew, chapter 23, verses 11 and 12:
“The greatest among you will be your servant.
For whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
As a university president, I liked making coffee early in the morning for students and staff on campus who needed an early morning cup. We served the coffee, as well as tea and hot chocolate, in the workroom beside my office. I liked making coffee for others even though I don’t drink coffee myself. I find that doing things for others is a reward in itself. I liked serving and supporting students. I liked giving students attention and respect. I liked providing the positive, spiritually based sustenance I often was not offered as a college student. And I liked knowing that lessons learned are lessons re-taught. The magic of serving others is knowing that our lessons will multiply and flourish within those we serve.
I value respecting other people’s viewpoints and perspectives, even when those viewpoints and perspectives differ greatly from my own. We can learn from one another, even though as a collective group of unique individuals we represent differing political philosophies, social perspectives, and personal ideologies. We should value and respect the differences among us.
I value diversity, and I am proud to value diversity because it is the most obvious by-product of today’s rapidly shrinking global world. Diversity, however, is difficult for many people to accept. I fully understand that the acceptance of diversity, in its many shapes, colors, and creeds, can mean the loss of privilege. Some people believe that in order to become diverse—to recognize diversity—you have to give up something to someone else. As a result, the belief is that those someone else’s gain, while we lose. There may be some truth in that, although I have never experienced it.
I find this acceptance to be comparable to the process of teaching and learning. As we learn something new, we also lose something old. We lose a former way of looking at the world, at our surroundings, and at ourselves. Sometimes new learning contradicts what we thought was true, what we were taught as being true by our parents and grandparents, and what we, in turn, have taught our children and grandchildren as being true. New learning interferes with old learning, old ways, old beliefs, and old habits. We find the contradiction of new ideas with old ones to be disturbing. But discomfort is okay. It is all part of learning and growing.
I try to demonstrate my respect for the collective differences surrounding me by occasionally standing outside of myself and my safe comfort zones, and accepting—not necessarily embracing—but accepting the different viewpoints and perspectives of others. To be honest, I am not always successful in that acceptance, but I do sincerely try to be.
What else do I value? I value my faith in God and the importance of spirituality in my life. Church is important to me because the services provide moments for me to reflect, to meditate, and to thank God for the blessings in my life. I truly believe that how each of us defines God and practices our spirituality is a personal matter. How each of us experiences our relationship with Christ is a personal manner. How each of us lives our faith is a personal matter. How each of us approaches our existence and the complex mysteries of life are personal matters. But how we overtly demonstrate our faith, our belief, and our spirituality in the treatment of others is a public matter.
I value my family. I value my wife who is my life as much as I am my life. I try to show her, both publicly and privately, that what I am is because of her; that who I am is because of her; that I am because of her.
What do you value? How do you show it? We are what we value. Others know what we value—understand what we value—by our words, actions, the way we treat others, and the way we live our lives.
I hope you value education. I hope you value serving others. I hope you value diversity and personal differences. I hope you value a belief in God and the love of Christ. I hope you value family. I hope you value your spouse.
And I hope we value one another. I hope we show it to one another as often as possible. What we value makes a difference in our lives and in the lives of others.