Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding, Proverbs 3:13

 I was reminded of this title from my mother. She said she would ask us “How are you doing?” and we would always answer “Fine.”  That, of course, didn’t fly, and she would press for more details.

“Fine” is not very informative. In fact, probably not very honest either. Oh, sure, there were days when I was actually doing fine, but there were many days that I wasn’t.  But my instinct was not to tell the truth.  Revealing my real feelings and emotions was not cool. So, “Fine” was all she got.

In his book, Lessons from a Third Grade Dropout, Dr. Rick Rigsby discusses how tied we are to appearance rather than reality.  “Our present culture encourages effortless living since all that matters is appearing successful.

He said this in the context of having lost his wife to cancer in her early 40’s. For a while, his life was all about going through the motions – what he referred to as “making an impression”.

No one questioned his motives, and so little was expected of him. He was doing impressionistic living. He was creating an impression that he was “fine” when in fact, he was dying a slow death inside.

He goes on: “Ours is a visual world with citizens who delight in those who appear good or gifted or great.” He continues: “We find it pleasantly acceptable for morality to be replaced by materialism, principle by popularity, or character by convenience.”

“Friends, possessions and surroundings have value inasmuch as they are significant metaphors used in the construction of an image that promises temporal rewards and immediate gratification.”  Ouch.  Basically, with good-looking friends, and the “right stuff” you can build the perception of excellence and success.

Dr. Rigsby finally realized that faith without works is dead. He had to go from making an impression to making an impact. It was radical, because he had to change from going through the motions to actually living above his circumstances.

Put in other words, he had to go from saying “I’m fine”, to learning to be honest about his emotional state and get up and do something.  He couldn’t remain a viewer of life, but a doer of life. This was a wisdom planted by his parents, a wisdom that is lacking in our present society.

I recently did a post on Burnout. In it, I noted that the statistics for the next generation in two areas (depression and suicide) are alarming.  While reading Dr. Rigsby’s book, I resonated with his experience.  I had experienced many red flags along the way to hitting the wall when I burned out, and I ignored all of them.

I was not honest with myself, nor with those around me. To the world, I appeared to be doing “fine”.  On the inside, I was an empty suit, going through the motions to keep up the impression that I could tough out my stressful life without anyone’s help. Until I couldn’t.

I won’t repeat my story (see my post on Burnout for the details), but I will say that my experience with burnout and depression was very real to the point of incapacity.

The culture of the next generation is ripe for depression, burnout, and sadly, suicide. While social media permits them to connect with “digital friends”, they are often really friendless with others and have nowhere to turn when times get tough.  No one stops them when they say “fine” and pushes the conversation to find out how are they really doing.

Which leads me back to Dr. Rigsby. By the way, there is a short video of a graduation speech by Dr. Rigsby that got me interested in getting his book. It is funny, poignant and inspirational, and I have added the link below. It is worth watching.

In his book, Dr. Rigsby talks about what helped him out of his despair from losing his wife. It was simple – it was the wisdom of his father. He then goes on to say: “The lack of wisdom in our present society poses a critical threat to the quality of our lives.”  Couldn’t have said it better myself.  What is lacking, he notes, is that the older generation’s wisdom is not being carried forward.

In more contemporary terms, the older generation is not paying it forward to the next generation. The older generation is a generation of “doers” and the next generation is a generation of “viewers”.  But you can only get so much from the digital world.

Learning from the wisdom of an earlier generation “may well be the societal glue that reconnects our society with the traits and values of an era that practiced common sense values as a lifestyle.”

The fact is that the next generation (millennials and Gen Z) are looking for mentors and not finding them.  It means that, at a base level, they are aware that they are missing wisdom from someone older.  That’s a siren call for mentors.

An interesting article in Psychology Today by Sean Grover discusses the negative thoughts in teenagers’ heads, and how they would want you to react.  One of Grover’s suggestions is that teenagers want someone to talk to.

 I need someone to look up to who isn’t you [their parents]. I need an adult to admire, someone I want to be like. A person who believes in me, pushes me, and understands me. A mentor, a counselor, a therapist…anyone who can give me hope when I have too little for myself.

My first challenge is to the mentor aged generation.  You are needed on the front lines to connect with a generation seeking people of character in their lives. You can make an impact on somebody’s life.  You can push them and give them hope when they don’t have it inside. But you can’t do it from a distance – you have to reach out and engage them. It’s that simple. They are waiting for your initiative.

My challenge to the next generation: seek out a mentor. Be bold and assertive. The older generation has wisdom to impart, but many don’t know that they need to pay it forward to the next generation. One of the excuses given by the mentor aged population for not mentoring is that no one had ever asked them to be a mentor. You can change that. Find someone who will press you to be honest as to how you are really doing. Nuff said.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Be on the lookout for members of the next generation who are seeking a mentor and encourage others of your era to invest in their lives. When meeting with your mentee, dig below the surface to see how they are really doing and don’t take “fine” as a good answer. Be prepared to ask hard questions.

FURTHER STUDY:  Dr. Rigsby’s book, Lessons from a Third Grade Dropout (2006), is available at Amazon.

A video of Dr. Rigsby’s graduation speech can be found at: Rick Rigsby – Make An Impact – YouTube

The article in Psychology Today about teenagers facing depression:

WORSHIP:  Listen to Michael W. Smith sing “Open the Eyes of My Heart.”

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2 thoughts on “Fine

  1. Thoughtful post Bill!

    I think that, generally, millennials inherently understand appearances, but aren’t as comfortable spending time in introspection.. I think this is why mindfulness as a discipline is so popular right now.

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