John M. Yeager, Ed.D, MAPP, is Director of the Center for Character Excellence at The Culver Academies in Culver, Indiana. John consults with Dave Shearon, and Sherri Fisher at www.FlourishingSchools.com, an organization that integrates best practices in education with cutting edge Positive Psychology research. He co-authored the recently published book, Smart Strengths: Building Character, Resilience and Relationships in Youth. Full bio.
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Have you cracked the code yet? Have you figured out how your strengths get you more of what you want? In the movie Dead Poets Society, teacher Mr. Keaton (played by Robin Williams) challenges his class to answer these questions posed by poet Walt Whitman.
Although the first part of Whitman’s poem may seem a bit pessimistic, the “answer” is one of hope and optimism. It is about playing to our strengths. By knowing, valuing and acting on our strengths, we bring out the best in ourselves and we can help create opportunities to bring the best out in those around us. A great example is the Culver Military Academy Class of 1956. In 2006 they celebrated their 50th reunion at the school, one that set a record for the most attended by a 50th reunion class. On October 11, they will hold a 52.5 year reunion on campus to help celebrate their 70th birthdays. When asked to speak at their Birthday Bash dinner, I queried several class members to gather some information for my presentation. The ’56 theme rang loud and clear – connection! It was as if they were speaking from the StrengthFinder 2.0 on “connectedness” and the Values in Action Inventory (VIA) on “love.” This group certainly “value(s) close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing and caring are reciprocated.”
O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring;
Of the endless trains of the faithless–of cities fill’d with the foolish;
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light–of the objects mean–of the struggle ever renew’d;
Of the poor results of all–of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;
Of the empty and useless years of the rest–with the rest me intertwined;
The question, O me! so sad, recurring–What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here–that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.
This class has lived with the mantra of being part of something larger than self, confirming the answer to Whitman’s elegy. Tom Rath, author of StrengthsFinder 2.0, claims those who have the trait of connectedness “. . . gain confidence from knowing that we are not isolated from another. . . (and) can give others comfort that there is a purpose beyond our humdrum lives.”
Life is a “powerful play” and the closeness of the members of the Class of ’56 has resonated through shared elations and frustrations throughout their journey. On Oct.11, 2008 on a nice autumn evening, when much is happening outside the Culver campus and the cornfields of north central Indiana, a group of 30 septuagenarians from all over the country will meet once again, not quite like the Dead Poets Society, but to hold forth the commitment to their own shared verse.
Life is a “powerful play” and I can’t wait to hang out with the Boys of ’56 tonight!
Rath, T. (2007). StrengthsFinder 2.0: A New and Upgraded Edition of the Online Test from Gallup’s Now, Discover Your Strengths. New York: Gallup Press.