(About a 6 minute read; 1 minute for “Here’s the Deal”)
Everyone needs a little encouragement at times, and it helps when it is honest and well rooted in the truth.
In the spring of my sophomore year at university, the most ripped professor I have ever known punched me with an assignment so freaking hard it crushed me into myself. It made me wonder who I was.
DEAR READER: Please feel free to scroll down to “Here’s the Deal” if you don’t have time to read first how and why I think this promotion will benefit you.
I was too young to be taking such a high-level seminar in the first place. But Dr. Thomas Moore was retiring from our joint Department of Philosophy and Comparative Religious Studies in order to take up a chair in philosophy at the University of Chicago, and I was granted permission to study with him on the grounds I would not have another chance at learning from him.
Physically, Moore looked like one of those average, barrel chested men who now and then again prove in a bar fight they can punch well above their weight class while even half-drunk. But it was no merely physical punch he delivered me, and it was not in a physical way that Moore was truly ripped.
In addition to his three published books and innumerable published articles, he had two doctorates — including one in physics — and a med school degree in psychiatry.
Moore had an 800 pound mind.
The 450 level course was called, “Images of Mankind”. We would be studying seven different basic views of human nature, including versions of the Jewish, Platonic, Christian, and Marxist views, along with the views of Søren Kierkegaard, Abraham Maslow, and B.F. Skinner. At nineteen, I was truly out of my place.
Moore’s punch came well into the course, right along with his specific directions for completing the paper that was 50% of the final grade. He began, “Pick one of the seven views of human nature and discuss it in 25 or fewer double-spaced pages.” After next going into some details, he wrapped things up by looking me square in the eyes, and then…
“I want only positive criticisms. And donkey or ass can kick something down, kick it apart. What I want is for you to show me the view’s strengths, its honest truths, rather than its weaknesses.”
I think Moore knew damn well why he was singling me out for eye to eye contact when he spoke those words. He had my number. At nineteen, I was — compared to most of my peers — a razor blade when it came to dissecting ideas and concepts.
I had actually earned a minor reputation among the faculty for finding the weaknesses in the reasoning of some pretty famous thinkers. It was a minor honor, but I had indeed earned it.
It started when Blaise Kretchmar accused me of plagiarism by openly denouncing me in front of the entire class:
“I cannot believe an undergraduate is capable of attacking the Cartesian argument for the existence of God with such precise logic. I will be relentless in finding the professional journal article you stole your paper from, and then I will be just as relentless in seeing you expelled from this university.”
I believe he was trying to make an example of me so no one else would get plagiarism into their heads.
But despite that I was performing a public service that day, his words reduced me to tears. I actually cried despite 19 years of being taught to bite myself, but never to cry.
To give Blaise credit now, he not only eventually apologized but went on to take me under his wing, becoming as much a mentor as a professor to me.
Maybe Moore had heard of my rep, or maybe he had figured it out on his own, but my great weakness as a thinker was I could only see the weaknesses in other thinkers.
That didn’t change much for about 15 years. It was only after I began hiring and employing people that I realized you don’t get the maximum productivity out of folks by zeroing in on them to correct their flaws. When you do that, you focus people on fixing their weaknesses to please you, rather than building on their strengths to achieve success.
Once I saw it, I set myself to memorizing the top three individual strengths of each of my 13 full timers. Consciously memorizing them so they would be the first thing I thought of when dealing with anyone in my company. It worked, too. Productivity soared, turn-over took a nose dive, and profits were beautiful and comely to behold.
But that was all years later. I picked Kierkegaard’s vision of human nature for the term paper. Attempting to write it made me — for the first time in my life — see clearly that I was essentially a negative thinker. It didn’t change me, but it changed how I understood myself.
There was a glitch though. I spent so much time struggling to write a positive criticism that I fell short of Moore’s standards.
“Frankly, you possess the most brilliant understanding of Kierkegaard I’ve yet to see in an undergraduate. But at six pages, your paper is too short. You have left out too much. B minus is the best I can give it and still be honest.”
HERE’S THE DEAL
In the comments, link me to up to three of your blog posts that you want me to positively critique. Or do the same by email.
The posts can be anything. Poetry. Prose. Stories. Reflections. Short fiction. Musings.
I will then study each one of them to uncover what I believe are the good things that can be truthfully and honestly said about it. Basically, its strengths.
I will pay no attention to anything I consider a weakness.
I will then email you my conclusions, which you will are free to post on your blog along with a link back to my blog — not to this post, but to my blog URL please.
I would also ask you to reblog this post.
Please allow me a generous measure of time to read your post and get back to you with your positive and honest analysis from me. I have many commitments, but I will get to your post as soon as I can.
That’s it! That’s the whole of it. You get public recognition, and so do I. Win-Win with no risk and no downside.