Too often, when we place the self in the context of the greater world, we point outward instead of directing the fit inward. Today, I’d like to discuss the idea how learning civilizes you — the self — and not just the greater “ourselves.”

Here’s an example.

Two decades ago, a retired professor was teaching a Summer course to adult students who also happened to be some of the top teachers from around the country.  The teaching professor’s son entered the classroom when the learning session was finished, and the professor fusilladed his son with kisses and embraced him in several versions of bear hugs.

That public display of affection was unfettered, uncensored, and matter-of-fact between middle-aged son and 70-year-old professor-father.

18 years later, one of those adult teacher students in the classroom contacted the now 88-year-old — and still retired! — professor to thank him for the teaching.  The professor, of course, said the pleasure was all his and he was glad the course was helpful.

The student then corrected the professor to say he wasn’t thanking him for the class, per se, he was thanking him for the real, and human example, of the love that was demonstrated between father and son.

The retired professor was a little confused and had to be reminded of the kissing and the hugging.  The professor always greeted his son that way, so he found it odd that interaction between father and son was so memorable.

“I was raised in the Southwest,” the student said, “and we keep our feelin’s in.  We don’t go kissin’ and huggin’ on our adult kids like that.  When I saw how much your son loved the attention, I decided to give it a try with my young son, and the results were so good I never stopped.  I called to thank you for that.  I called to tell you how your example led me to findin’ an even deeper love for my son I never thought I had in me.”

That example of a lesson unwittingly taught — but purposefully caught! — teaches us that we are forever being watched and exampled and modelled and it is that very process of seeing and applying behaviors we want to imitate that brings civility to the self.

There is great power, and some danger, in being open to outside examples because they can change our core for the ongoing good — or for the perpetual bad. Do we want to reflect hatred on the street, or do we want to reflexively propagate the example of love and respect between a father and a son to earn our own civilization?

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