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The Attitude of Learning — Demonstrated by a 70 year old World Leader


04May 2011

Wow.  There are some life experiences that almost take your breath away.  I’m not talking about riding a rollercoaster, or seeing an outstanding artistic performance.  But a quieter experience, that upon reflection, has a deep impact on you.  This week I had one of those.

I had the privilege of going to New York City to help facilitate a discussion among 20+ extremely bright, very successful individuals as part of an event sponsored by Princeton University (I had the opportunity to be there as a result of a friend’s invitation.)

So, here we were in this conference room, seated around a table talking about the complexities of the interactions between financial wealth, how to have a healthy family in this context, along with how to be wise and do well in philanthropic giving.  And there were individuals ranging from early 40s to early 80s, from many walks of life — from the U.S. & Europe.

And, as group gatherings and discussions typically go, there was also a wide range of personality styles and life perspectives — quiet to extremely outgoing and opinionated, with everything in between.

But there was one individual who stood out.  And he “stood out” more and more as the day progressed.  He clearly wasn’t the most talkative — but he was the most listened to.  And he was the participant who, over the course of the day, people looked to and asked his opinion the most.

But, interestingly, he stated a number of times (humbly, I might add) — “I am here to learn from you.”  In fact, when each person introduced themselves and reported what question they hoped to have answered from the day’s discussion, he matter-of-factly reported that he wanted to learn more about an area in which he is viewed by many as a world leader.

His attitude of learning didn’t stop there.  Throughout the day, even when others would essentially say to him “It looks like you have done a good job in this area”, he repeatedly stated, “We are still learning.”  And his posture of learning or humility was neither an act nor a facade.  Through my interactions with him, I realized this is who is he and how he lives life.

I was sad to see him leave the room at the end of the day, knowing that I probably won’t have another opportunity to be around and learn from him.

Contrast this experience with times you have been around self-focused and self-proclaiming individuals (ranging from children through adolescence and young adulthood to, unfortunately, older adults). They seem primarily focused on espousing (often, at some length) their “wisdom” and viewpoint; they don’t seem to be interested in listening nor learning.  My reaction (when it is not me, that is)  is usually a mild nausea and desire to get away.

Wow.  I want to be more like him.

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