I’ve always admired and enjoyed being around people who love their work, particularly if they delight in inspiring others to grow and express their true potential. So in honor of Valentine's Day, I’d like to offer a special valentine to someone who loved his work and worked with love to foster the joy of learning and transformation in others.
My high school English teacher, Warren Wilde, was absolutely passionate about exploring the wonders of literature with his students. He was young, balding, and a brand-new teacher when he was hired by Los Altos High School in California. As we students waited outside the room on the first day for our teacher to show up, we caught sight of a slight, balding man who seemed very nervous, constantly popping peppermint lifesavers (since he couldn’t smoke on the school grounds). We watched him silently, thinking, what have they given us this year?
Within fifteen minutes, however, he was fully in charge of our skeptical honors English class, positing intriguing questions and listening intently to our responses. There was no condescension in his manner of teaching, only a genuine interest in taking us deeply into new aspects of our lives through a growing understanding of a wide variety of literature.
We found out, too, that he could be challenging, daring us to broaden our unexamined acceptance of social norms and take risks with our thinking, our discussion, and our writing. He was skeptical of platitudes, political dogma, fuzzy thinking, and going strictly by the rules.
In addition, he invited controversy as a way of heightening dialogue, for example, with the bomb shelter exercise. This supposed that a nuclear emergency was about to happen and that each of us had a bomb shelter that would accommodate four people at maximum. However, each of us were part of a group of four friends or family members; one of us would not be able to stay with the rest in the shelter. How would we decide who to leave outside to face the nuclear blast? How did we experience such a chilling process of choosing?
A number of us students were wrung out over this choice, and our parents were concerned. But Mr. Wilde held firm and said we’d have to learn to consider the consequences of our choices and actions in life. Later, I understood that this was a theme that ran through the literature that we learned to explore in depth with him.
As a person from a small town in Idaho, he found his calling working in a milieu that allowed him to live out his personal and professional dreams. As I wrote in my book (Success with Soul-- Loving Your Livelihood, Living in Balance), of Paul Child, husband to famed chef, Julia Child: “He was willing, over and over, to take risks, try new things, and most of all, fully appreciate and engage with whatever opportunities came his way.” And so did Mr. Wilde, who introduced us to opera, which he loved, and later in his career, organized trips for his students to Europe to hear opera in its native lands.
When he died, in a tragic accident, ten years after his arrival at our high school, his memorial service was attended by a swarm of bereaved students from each year he’d taught.
What can we learn from being in the presence of a person who has the ability and confidence to inspire the transformation of our ways of thinking, feeling, and acting into truer, more authentic ways of relating and acting in the world? For me, it has been about helping to empower others in similar ways through my own work and my relationships with others.
What about for you?