Monday, October 15, 2012

Outward, Not Inward

This is Mr. Weber's talk to students on October 22, 2012.      
There’s a famous story about a corporation in Dallas that spent several 100 million dollars building a new corporate headquarters—a 50 story building featuring all the amenities. Besides giving their employees more room, the leaders of the corporation hoped that moving into this new building would improve corporate morale. However, when the big day came for the employees to move in, they realized they had made a terrible mistake. Apparently, the elevator system they installed was too slow, such that all their employees began to complain. It got to the point after several weeks that the leadership began to think the new building was actually hurting morale, and were on the verge of ripping out the brand new elevator system to put in a faster one, which would have cost the company over 10 million dollars.

But before they made that decision, they decided to hire an industrial psychologist to study the problem. The psychologist came to the new building, rode up and down the elevators with employees several times, walked into corporate headquarters and made a suggestion that would only cost the company about $1,000. The company took his advice and from the moment they did, complaining almost completely stopped. The original elevator system is still in use today.

Q. What did the expert suggest?

A. Install mirrors inside the elevators. Once the mirrors were installed, the employees spent so much time primping and inspecting themselves, they forgot all about the slow elevators.

That’s a true story, but there is a kind of parable-like quality to it in terms of what it says about us. It is reminiscent, I believe, of the story of Narcissus from Greek and Roman mythology. You remember the story. Narcissus (Nar-SIS-us) became thirsty and went to drink from a stream. When he saw his reflection in the water, he fell in love with it, not knowing that it was himself. As he bent down to kiss it, it seemed to "run away" and he was heart broken. He grew thirstier but he wouldn't touch the water for fear of damaging his reflection, so he eventually died of thirst and self love, staring at his own reflection.

There is within us, I think, a certain amount “narcissism” –vanity and self-centeredness--that makes us unaware of our surroundings, and certainly unaware of the needs and struggle of others. The “mirror” becomes a kind of symbol of that, and perhaps even a symbol of our society today. We don’t need more mirrors. Instead, we need windows that help us look outward and not inward

That's why I am pleased to announce that JPII has formalized an arrangement with a Catholic school in France for an exchange program with us, our third exchange program (the others are Loughlin in England and the German exchange with a Muenster Catholic school). Madame Taylor and Mrs. Phillips spent Fall break with the leaders of this school in France to talk through how the program would work and recommended to me that we go forward, and I am delighted to endorse that recommendation. There's no better way to look outward than to immerse ourselves in a foreign culture for 2-3 weeks--so especially if you're taking French here, I hope you will look into that program. 

But there are other ways to look outward as well. Our Christian service program places us in situations that may be a little uncomfortable to us, but that's a good thing, in that it helps us understand people with less advantages than we have. I like the fact that there's a good mix of faiths in this school--the interplay between Catholics and non-Catholics is something that helps us re-examine our assumptions. The word "respect" means literally to "look at a second time."  I like that this student body comes from 21 cities or towns, ten different zip codes, and two different states. Contrary to the way many think, our differences should not lead to intolerance, but to respect, as we are able to re-examine our beliefs a second time while considering the beliefs of others. 

So let's try to build more windows in our life and less mirrors. Let us live life with our eyes wide open, able to see others' needs, willing to immerse ourselves in unfamiliar settings, willing to challenge our perspectives and get ourselves outside of our comfort zone. Aside from the fact we all need a little stretching, it makes for a more interesting, exciting life. 

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