One of my favorite movies of 2018 was “Won’t You Be My Neighbor”, the documentary of the late Fred Rogers of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”. Although, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences mindlessly overlooked nominating it for Best Documentary Feature, the movie forever holds a special place in my heart.
When I was a kid, Mr. Rogers was someone I felt was talking to me from the TV screen. The amazing surprise from “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” was that kind genuine man on the screen was this same man off and behind the TV screen.
In one of Fred’s University commencement speeches, one of his last before he passed away, he said, “You don’t have to do anything extraordinary to be loved.” Fred was a good, wise man with great heart. We all deserve to be loved. Amen, Fred.
For several years, I worked for Barry, who led transformational education programs. Barry delivered the programs that made a difference for thousands of people. I was the logistics guy, who helped create the safe open space for Barry to speak into. Ours was an amazing partnership and friendship. I love Barry, unconditionally.
Barry told me, “If you want to truly make a difference, you have to give up being liked.” Over the years since, I got the profoundness of what he spoke, and the training required along that journey. I also got that dedication from Sensei Dan in Aikido, when he spoke loudly, “That’s it. Now, do it again!”
At least for me: I’m naturally thrown to being liked. Deep down we all want to be liked. Yet, deeper within, to the very core of our being, we all want to make a difference in this life. To make a difference, sometimes I have to grind it out, be willing to take the heat when something is that meaningful for me, or for you.
Recall, there’s that fine line between euphemistic ‘tough love’ and being a dick. Really. Bottom line: Don’t be a dick. Be kind. Have ruthless compassion for others. See the greater than within others. It’s not all about me. If I’m dedicated to making a profound difference, then it’s all about them becoming greater than they know.
The relevance of love over liked lies in its paradox: When we give up being liked, and dedicate to making a difference for others, love arises as the distinct possibility. Just saying.
Several years ago, I taught my dear friend Neil’s son Lukas Aikido. Neil trusted Sensei and I to teach his sons, Lukas and Kurt. Neil was very strong in Aikido – he was Nidan, 2nd-degree black belt. Neil was aware that Lukas and Kurt were more likely to listen to Sensei and me, because we were ‘not Dad’. I got that. Sensei and I honored that privilege.
Lukas and Kurt had an affinity for me, not because I was a better teacher than Sensei. Rather, I was just younger, and talked a lot more than Sensei, who was a man of few words. I also knew what it was like learning Aikido from their perspective.
I started training Lukas when he was about 11 years old. He was the greater version of me. Lukas was the blonde good-looking athlete, who was smart and tough as hell. He was also a bit reckless. Well, he was young and strong willed.
I’d always throw Lukas hard to the mat, not to harm. I wanted him to get a reference for the feel he need to regenerate for himself, when he threw others. Lukas inherited my love for Aikido, and really my love for him. I’d say, “Get up. Walk it off.” I was my version of Sensei, “That’s it. Do it again.”
I was never going to be a Father. So working with Lukas, gave me an opportunity to see what that life might have been like.
One Sunday in Aikido practice, I trained with Lukas working on iriminage (the clothesline to the head of the attacker). Sensei said to Lukas, “Show me.” Lukas threw me to the mat, solidly. Sensei smiled. He said to me, “You’re a better teacher than me.” Both Lukas and I were wide-eyed and quiet for a second. I replied, “I don’t think so…” Really, I got the acknowledgment. I got the love. I had made a difference. And that made a difference for me, too. Karma.
Lukas and Kurt practiced Aikido intensely for about 3 years. They eventually stopped to pursue soccer and water polo, where both excelled. That’s just life.
When Lukas graduated from high school, he invited me to the family dinner after the graduation ceremony. I hadn’t seen Lukas in a couple years. Lukas was tall, handsome, muscular, and polite. He was going to University of Arizona in the fall. We gave each other a “Man Hug” when we caught up.
I was so proud of the young man Lukas had become. I was so proud that I had played some small part in that evolution. I had made a difference. I didn’t care if I was liked. Like Sensei, I taught out of love. And I got love back. I love Lukas. It was unconditionally mutual.
Want to make a profound difference? Choose love over being liked. As daunting as that is, it’s even more rewarding. Like Michelangelo, we have to chip away the superfluous to reveal our greater than within. That requires hard work, faith, and love. Not so much: Liked. Just saying.
This post was previously published on www.facebook.com and is republished here with permission from the author.
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