Last Friday night I had the opportunity to speak to SUMMIT, a Mays conference designed to help students understand who they are and who they want to become. The faculty and staff in Mays who have designed this conference are very intentional. Me, not so much. I went out to Carolina Creek camp to do my session, but I would be lying if I said I did a great job of tying it into the rest of the conference. But it turned out that I was the one who was going to be learning a lesson this weekend.
What I explained to the students at SUMMIT is that we all make decisions about what is valuable, what is worth the most. The goal is to develop principles to guide your life that align with those values. (I understand that people can value worthless things, but that is a topic for another blog.) Finally, we hope to make choices consistent with those principles we have defined.
If you find yourself making choices that are inconsistent with those principles, most people feel guilty or troubled. If your choices are often different from your values, then you are lying to yourself. You really have different values.
I spent the rest of the weekend watching the person I know who is most consistent in living her values, known to my students simply as The World’s Most Beautiful Woman. What she values is people; specifically, for her, people are more important than things. And her choices almost always mirror that value.
Saturday she orchestrated an event, along with others, meant to honor someone else. She set up a chapel for an engagement party with the help of a delightfully industrious young woman, following the preferred design of the groom-to-be to the letter. She made sure that the food she contributed to the party was the favorite of those involved, making arrangements ahead of time to be sure there was plenty. She bought the flowers and gathered the candles and
garnered the help to move the furniture in the chapel, and she made sure she understood the preferred layout. Then she left, and went to make sure that her part of the contribution to the celebration was in order. It even
occurred to her that she might be seen, and so she tried to avoid any chance of
that happening on the way from one venue to another. I, on the other hand, drove the car. After the engagement deal had been sealed, she returned to the chapel with that industrious young woman to clean things up and put things back the way they were.
On Sunday evening, we had students over for dinner. Since she was making meat loaf, and her homemade macaroni and cheese, and green beans, and apple crisp, I suggested that perhaps it would be more efficient to buy canned biscuits instead of making them herself. She quietly ignored my suggestion. And when the students arrived, she engaged each one in conversation, both before and during the meal. She drew out from them their stories and their connections with one another, and she recognized when someone wasn’t really getting a chance to contribute to the conversation. I, on the other hand, told stories.
Monday evening, after attending a Mays Business School discussion on race, I sat on the same side of the booth at Chick-fil-A, sharing a sandwich, soup and a shake with this same pretty girl. For half an hour I was all she cared about, and I was the one she wanted to draw out and know better. I made my half a sandwich last as long as I possibly could.
If you aren’t aware of it, your values ooze out of you. Most people can reach conclusions about what you value within the first 30 minutes of a conversation. I make a living studying how people live out those values, and helping my students think intentionally about the lives they want to live. It is a rare privilege to do what I do.
But it cannot compare with the privilege of living side-by-side with a person so aligned with her values, day after day. It is true that her values have shaped our children, and thus our grandchildren, as well. But, more than anything, she has changed me by living her values so consistently.
I really can’t describe how much I value her. But that’s why she goes by a title, and not a name.