A few months ago, after I sent my younger of two sons off to college, I started coming to the Society as an adult after not having been here but just a few times since I was in youth group.
I would sit in the back and reacquaint myself with the wood beams of this auditorium, and the structure and concepts of Platform, and I would see Elicit the Best in big letters on the screen.
While I enjoyed listening to other people’s stories of eliciting the best, I still struggled to wrap my head around what that meant. I was skeptical of the singular The in elicit the best, because “The Best” to me meant one, the top, the perfect, and that didn’t jive with me.
As a perpetual student and former teacher, I think a lot in terms of letter grades, and generally, in school and in life, I’ve prided myself on being a solid B+ in most things. Which meant I have never really been the best at anything, because the Best would be an A.
When Kyle asked if I would be willing to share my Elicit the Best story, I excitedly said yes, and then quickly realized I had no idea what that meant for me. So for a few weeks I thought about it, swirled it around in my head, and eventually went to the source – Felix Adler. I had been given a book about Felix Adler when I was in youth group, but being the solid B+, of course I never read it.
So, I found an online copy of a collection of Adler’s lectures and did some reading. OK, I know I should “Act so as to elicit the best in others and thereby in thyself.”
But Adler also said, “In order to join vigorously in the moral work of the world, I must believe that somehow the best I can accomplish will endure, will leave its trace on things.” The phrase “the best I can accomplish” helped put Elicit the Best in a framework that I understood. In my mind, I added the preposition “of” after Elicit the Best, as in Elicit the best of understanding, and elicit the best of empathy.
This helped my mind shift from the Person as the best to the action of doing one’s best. So I essentially took a big circle back to Deed before Creed.
And this made me reflect on what I tried to do as a parent. My two children elicited the best of my nurturing, my encouragement, my love, my support. And I tried to model for them eliciting the best of fairness and caring and joyfulness.
Earlier this year my sons and I were at Union Station eating lunch in a restaurant, and I observed a woman with three little children. She had her hands full – a newborn in a front carrier, and two toddlers. I was in awe at how she cared for these children with such grace, patience, and gentleness. So anonymously I wrote her a short thank you note and paid for their meal.
One of my sons asked me why I did that. First, I did it because I just wanted to. Watching this woman caring for these tiny humans was like watching a ballet – she was amazing! Second, I was in a financial position to be able to do it, whereas I wasn’t not that long ago. And third, I wanted to model for my own children what one small, random act of kindness could look like.
More than anything, as a mother, I have tried to elicit the best of my sons’ humaneness. I have no idea how their adult selves would grade me for the role I played in their growth and development. I was conscientious, I tried my best, so I’m aiming for an A-. But if I earn a B+, I’ll think I did OK.