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Tuesday, January 11, 2005

"Everybody just wants to bounce their ball"

Wanted to share this poignant little story from a book I reviewed this week called, "Awake at Work," by Michael Carroll. I couldn't work this story into a 275-word review, but it was too beautiful not to share in some way. The author describes how, as a senior in high school, a German priest taught he and his classmates how to think.

"For a year we studied Aristotelian logic, the Socratic method, John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism, syllogistic reasoning, logical fallacies, deductive and inductive reasoning, a priori and a posteriori statements … We were trained well in analyzing life's situations logically, systematically, rationally.

"On our final class together with this wise and gentle man—a day I will always remember and cherish—he gave us a little speech that I recall to this very day.

'When we started off the year, many of you gentlemen felt that
learning to think was rather silly. Some said to me, 'We all think,
so what's there to learn?' But now, after a year, you see that
thinking properly is demanding. To think properly is to be disciplined
and to listen well. To think properly, in the end, is to be logical.

'Yet, gentlemen, I leave you with one last lesson—probably the most
important lesson I have to offer. Life, my dear fellows, is not
logical. While you may work hard throughout your lives to be fair
and reasonable, thorough and correct, your lives will not follow
such rules. And if you try to understand your fellow humans beings
by logic alone, you will be doing yourselves and others a great
disservice. There is actually something much more basic and impor-
tant that is at the heart of every human being.'

"Our teacher began to walk around the classroom, placing a single sheet of paper facedown on each of our desks."

'So I leave you today with one final puzzle that I hope you keep with
you for the rest of your lives. Contemplate it, remember it, let its
meaning unfold. I believe that what I am handing you will be helpful
to you in understanding what we all really want as human beings.'

"I turned the sheet of paper over to discover a rather unremarkable photograph from a local newspaper. It was a picture of a young boy standing alone outside an empty basketball court. The shot was taken from behind him. He had a basketball under one arm and gripped the tall chain-link fence with his free hand. Though it was a warm, sunny day, the court was empty and the gate was locked. The caption below read, 'Everybody just wants to bounce their ball.'"

It was years later before the author understood the riddle—"a deeply person lesson on how to conduct myself in business and in life. And though these are not my teacher's actual words, I can hear them in my heart today as if they were being spoken from his lips to my ears.

'Don't take yourselves so seriously, gentlemen, for if you do, you
will miss what it means to be human. Your logic and correctness, your
rationality and thoroughness, can actually blind you, lock you out of
the game, prevent you from becoming who you most deeply want to be.'

"'Everybody just wants to bounce their ball' reminds us to respect the gentle enthusiasm that everyone brings to life."

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