Competence and character grow together. But in preparing the whole person for real life, there’s a third necessary area of development: connection.
I’ve spent a lot of time coaching communicators. Often communication skills like public speaking are refined in competition — which is the fastest way up the learning curve. In these settings, competence and character are readily evident. And so is connection.
Here’s a story of what happens when we don’t add in that third element of connection:
Nathaniel was standing in front of me, ballots in hand. “These judges are stupid. You need to get smarter judges. Or you need to do a better job teaching them how to judge!”
Nathaniel was smart, really smart. The kind of smart that causes parents and teachers to shake their heads in wonder. Nathaniel had a strong sense of morality, steeped in his family’s Christian values. At 15 years old, he was pretty sure he was smarter than most of the adults in his life. Which may have been true.
What Nathaniel, and his coach, missed is the importance of connection.
Contrast Nathaniel’s story with Tom’s. Tom didn’t see himself as the most brilliant student. In fact, he struggled in some areas of academics. But, every time he could deliver his ideas orally, he excelled. So much so that his peers looked forward to his story-filled presentations. Tom was magnetic on the platform and one-on-one. He connected his ideas with real people. He was genuinely interested in people. And they knew it.
The smartest kid on the platform still needs to communicate with the real people in the audience. The brilliant executive must communicate his ideas with real people if they are to execute them well. The cutting-edge surgeon with break-through procedures must connect with her team if they are to save or improve the life of the patient. The fervent believer must connect his beliefs with real people in real life situations if they are to understand each other.
Luke documented an example of this for Jesus-followers in what we now know as the New Testament book of Acts. He described the time when Paul showed up in Athens and saw the city filled with idols. You can read more about it in Acts chapter 17.
Paul was telling these first-century inquirers and skeptics about Jesus the Messiah. Some of his listeners thought his ideas were strange. Others were curious. So Paul, an outstanding communicator, began with what they already knew.
Paul told them he had seen their altar to an unknown god. He proceeded to describe that very God to them. He began with something familiar and connected it to something unfamiliar. Paul made connections between the Athenians’ cultural question mark and his experiential answer. He connected his personal relationship with Jesus to their question about a god they did not yet know.
It is possible the single most important skill we can equip our students with is this: to connect their ideas and beliefs with the other person’s life experience.
How do you foster the ability to connect in your students?