For the past three or four years I’ve been asked to talk to 9th graders in a program designed to help them clarify their values and beliefs as they move forward into the beginning stages of adulthood. I always look forward to meeting the kids and find the evening inspiring, particularly because it gives me the opportunity to purposefully re-examine my own values and verbalize the things I believe most in this world.
Most years, I’ve been part of a panel that answers questions related to a particular topic with follow-up questions from the kids. This year the class was structured around a different and quite interesting angle. Instead of talking to the whole class, I sat with two of the students and we were instructed to conduct an interview.
But there was a twist – I wasn’t the one being interviewed. My job was to interview these two young ladies. I was provided with a list of thought-provoking questions to ask them about and take notes on their answers. I was allowed to offer my own thoughts on the questions but only after each of them had answered completely. It was so different from the years where I had been asked to talk for 15 minutes and have the kids ask me questions at the end.
This year, my job wasn’t to talk to them. It was to listen and engage and affirm and then, if the moment was right, talk with them. And that is so much better. These kids, 14 or 15 years-old, are so interesting. They have definite ideas about what’s important to them. They have figured out their values and what they believe in and they want to share their ideas about how they are going to interact with the world in a way that is meaningful and impactful. Honestly, I could have asked questions and listened to their responses all night long.
Throughout the process, they also got to know a little bit about me and what I value, but truthfully, that was the least important part of the conversation. I think the really interesting thing about the whole process was that the young women I talked to seemed, at times, genuinely surprised by their own depth and understanding of themselves. More than once, they started with “This might seem weird…” but felt better when the other acknowledged feeling the same way or when I affirmed that their ideas were valid and interesting and thoughtful.
All in all, it was a great night that left me feeling inspired and connected. Listening to other people’s stories is maybe my favorite part of what I do not only professionally but simply as a human being trying to make meaning out of her short time here. I appreciated the time I spent with these teens and left recharged and changed. Not bad for a Sunday night.
This blog post is day 3 of the National Blog Posting Month challenge.