I know a lot of young adults. Where I see possibility, they seem to see confusion. Where I see reason for excitement, they seem to see reason for fear. Where I see the irrelevant, they seem to see something that demands attention.
"In our attraction to problems, deficiencies, disabilities, and needs, the missing community conversation is about gifts. The only cultural practices that focus on gifts are retirement parties and funerals. We only express gratitude for your gifts when you are on your way out or gone. If we really want to know what gifts others see in us, we have to wait for our own eulogy, and even then, as the story goes, we will miss it by a few days.
"In community building, rather than focusing on our deficiencies and weaknesses, which will most likely not go away, we gain more leverage when we focus on the gifts we bring and seek ways to capitalize on them. Instead of problematizing people and work, the conversation that searches for the mystery of our gifts brings the greatest change and results.
"The focus on gifts confronts people with their essential core, that which has the most potential to make the difference and change lives for good. ... our life work is to bring our gifts into the world."
"I am not what I am not able to do. I am what I am able to do - my gifts and capacities."
And what he writes makes me wonder about this problem young adults face. For the whole of their education, they've had their attention drawn to the red ink, to what is wrong or missing. This is not necessarily bad. Up to a particular point in life, it is worth pointing out that one lacks mathematical ability or spelling or compositional skills. The brain is plastic and feedback about what more needs to be learned or what is being done incorrectly is necessary for learning.
But at some point - about the time that students are transitioning into adulthood - what is weak or missing is likely to stay that way. Now it is time to focus on one's gifts, something that we are both unrehearsed at and might even find intimidating.
Block, again, writes,
"[Negative feedback] is often packaged in the name of learning and growth.
"Don't buy the packaging. The longing for feedback that we can 'work on' is really a defense against the terrible burden of acknowledging our gifts and getting about the work of living them, which we can call 'fulfilling our destiny' - language so demanding and imposing, no wonder I would rather keep swimming in the morass of my needs and incompleteness."
Or, as Tim Allen puts it,
"It’s daunting how many possibilities there are in life for everyone of us. But rather than face that I might be a failure or success – I think both of them are terrifying – people find diversions.”
At the point at which children become adults, they have to make a transition. Instead of focusing on filling in what is missing, they now have to build on what is present. Rather than turn a C into a B, they have to turn an A into a unique contribution, something that defies easy grading. Sadly, all their experience up to that point is on ameliorating weaknesses, not enhancing strengths.
I wonder how we would change this? It seems to me that this ought to be the central question of university education, but I could be wrong.