Elicit the Best from Sun. October 2 by Zoe Ann McKinnon

When James told me I was doing Opening Words today and that the topic was “eliciting the best”, I’m quite certain I looked like a surprised Pikachu.

I had just spent over a week agonizing over writing a behavioral expectations document and behavior contract for the youth of the ethical society. What needed to be included, how specific did I need to be without being too specific…while still covering my bases for students at an age where they have just discovered the power of civil discourse, debate, and the ever dreaded and celebrated loophole.

As I finished my first draft and looked back over it, I realized to my horror that as a parent, if I were in search of a community to bring my child to…and I read that document…I would think this place had some truly dreadful behavior issues…and I would run far and fast. In truth, we have a wonderful group of children and youth here at the Ethical Society who are committed to living out our Core Values. I would challenge anyone to try to find a better group anywhere.

So, I went back to the drawing board and pondered over the issue for longer than I’d like to admit. Finally, I decided to go back to basics…back to the foundation of the Ethical Society and what we’re all about. Although my daughter has been coming to the Ethical Society for about 5 years, I am a newbie and just learning about Ethical Culture. As I was looking at websites and thumbing through books, I stumbled across the name Felix Adler, and somewhere in the recesses of my brain, a light bulb went on: this must be the Adler the alcove off the Becker Room that we use for K-2 was named after. [surprised Pikachu face, again].

As I was reading about Felix Adler, realizing he was the founder of Ethical Culture, I came across some of his more famous quotes. Especially one gem “Act so as to elicit the best in others and thereby in thyself.” As I read that quote, I knew I had found what I had been looking for – the Holy Grail of Ethical Humanism, the answer to the problems of the Universe…well, certainly my universe. I felt like running through the halls of the Ethical Society and telling anyone I came across about my new discovery – except I was the only one in the building.

This truly was the answer to my dilemma, the entirety of what I wanted to put into the behavioral expectations contract could be summed up in three words…ELICIT…THE…BEST. One’s actions: deeds and words should be thoughtful, always keeping in mind the goal of “eliciting the best”. If what one is saying or doing does not elicit the best in oneself or others, then one needs to rethink one’s actions, doesn’t one?

I knew immediately this must be our motto for the year for SEEK, Coming of Age, and Youth Group…and with that thought, it became so. I will also be ordering T-shirts …perhaps even mugs.

Those three words have certainly become a useful yardstick for me, personally, in the short time I’ve known them. I have emblazoned them in my mind and heart, and they will be with me forever as a guide to live by.

NOTE: The ideas and opinions in this post do not necessarily express the thoughts or opinions of the Ethical Society of St. Louis or its leadership.