The Art of Strengths Coaching

S is for Sages Who Are Both Skipping And Serious  

Some sages seem to be skipping with joy and yet can also be serious. As they get older, they seem more able to have a sense of perspective about life.

They can be a bit mischievous and also have a generous sense of humour. Whilst sometimes switching to being serious, they don’t take themselves too seriously.

Such people seem to recognise both their significance and insignificance in the great order of things. They recognise the need to be kind, encouraging and generous during their time on Earth.

At the same time, they recognise their own life is short. There have been billions of people before them and there will be billions after them. All they can do is try to contribute to life during their time on the planet.

The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, for example, show some of these qualities. Here is a video they made when launching their book The Book Of Joy.

Sage-like people often balance characteristics that may appear to be opposites. They balance serenity with steel. They can be calm yet also display massive commitment.

Maya Angelou demonstrated many of these qualities. She had wisdom, charm and mischievousness. Below are some of the things she said. These are followed by her reciting her famous poem And Still I Rise.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Life is pure adventure, and the sooner we realize that, the quicker we will be able to treat life as art.

Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope. 

You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them. 

My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.

Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet. 

Sage-like people try to demonstrate humility rather than hubris. Jim Collins, who writes about great leaders, says that such leaders often embody an interesting combination. They demonstrate personal humility and professional will.

Such people often serve something greater than themselves. They may pursue a set of values, a sense of vocation or a compelling cause. They use their strengths to do superb work that serves the overall mission.

Looking at my own life, I have been fortunate to have several mentors who had a great sense of humour along with a sense of service. Alec Dickson, the founder of Voluntary Service Overseas and Community Service Volunteers, embodied these qualities.

Totally dedicated to improving society, he aimed to marry to idealism of young people with the unmet needs in society. Here is one example of his dedication yet sense of mischief.

Alec was due to visit the House of Commons to ask a Parliamentary Committee to provide funding for an initiative in which young people would help older people. Before the session he arranged to meet a journalist from The Times afterwards to tell them the outcome.

Appearing before the Committee, Alec outlined the plan in a matter of fact and gracious way. Towards the end one of the Members of Parliament had the following exchange with Alec.

MP: “What you are saying is laudable, Mr Dickson. But I am afraid that we do not have the funding for such an initiative.”

Alec: “I thank you for your time and understanding. I am now going to an interview with a journalist from The Times. I will tell them that, in the view of this Committee, there are no unmet needs in society.”

MP: “No, wait a moment, Mr Dickson. This is not what we are saying. We will look into the matter further. It may be possible to find a way forward.”

Alec got the funding. He was steely, but often had a twinkle in his eye.

Jenny Joseph encouraged many people to enjoy the equivalent of skipping in life with her poem Warning. She later described it as embodying a woman who has a twinkle in her eye.

Below is an excerpt from what she wrote about the poem for The Lancet. This is followed by a video of her reading the poem. You can read the whole article via the following link.

Jenny Joseph

Although older people do enjoy the poem, perhaps because an older person is portrayed as an interesting and likeable individual, not as a member of a separate species, and children like it “because it’s funny and the woman in it reminds me of my Gran”, it is the ones in the middle – not so old yet, but … who have felt the poem speak especially to them.

Of course they have all said that what they liked (apart from the sausages and the red hat) was the spirit and happiness of the old woman.

Many people who enthuse about it know no more than a line or two, get even the first line wrong, and ask me, if they meet me, why I’m not wearing a purple hat. (Others have recognised all its levels.)

But somehow all sorts of people have laughed, been enlivened, brightened up, “been moved by” the poem, have felt a real live encounter with something zestful and comforting, and occupied it in their own way.

Why? What’s the trick? I’m grateful for the luck of having produced something that pleases. I have explored some possibilities above.

I’m happy to leave it at the portals of that magic of which we shall never entirely know the workings: the extraordinary phenomenon of language that can create so specific a world by a combination of sounds; and human beings’ most astounding invention whereby, by these marks on paper, we can bring the voices back again.

Pamela Robertson-Pearce filmed her reading the poem in Ledbury, Herefordshire, in July 2008, during Ledbury Poetry Festival.

Looking to the future, how can you continue to get the right blend in your life? How can you continue to balance the skipping and seriousness?

How can you enjoy your equivalent of skipping? You may want to continue walking, gardening, listening to music, being with your loved ones, cooking or doing creative activities. What will be the benefits of doing these things?

How can you, when appropriate, be serious? You may want to continue encouraging people, following your principles, doing satisfying work or giving positive things to people during your time on the planet. What will be the benefits of doing these things?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to focus on how you can get the right blend. Enjoy the journey.

Describe the specific things you can do to continue to enjoy your equivalent of skipping. 

Describe the specific things you can do to, when appropriate, be serious.

Describe the specific benefits of getting the right blend between enjoying your equivalent of skipping and also being serious.

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