Finding Ways to Make our Work Meaningful to Others

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If I can figure out how to replicate what my wife did this past week, I think I could dramatically enhance the work I do.  My daughter turned 12 last week, and my wife came up with the best present for her.

My wife finished a patchwork quilt she had been working on for some time.  Each quilt square is comprised of one or more patches from old outfits my daughter wore when she was younger.  There’s a sample of fabric from her favorite pajamas when she was a toddler, and a swatch from her favorite trousers when she was in kindergarten, and so on.  You can see the picture of the quilt for yourself.

quilt2

The fabric samples come from outfits that had a stain on the sleeve, or had a hole in the knee, or had some other defect that prevented us from giving the outfit away when our daughter outgrew it.  So my wife saved these outfits, with the future quilt in mind.  And goodness, each little outfit holds such memories when I look at it!

The quilt really is a brilliant idea.  And it’s gotten me to thinking.  There surely are ways to add to our everyday work so as to make it meaningful to others.  My wife certainly did that.  I mean, as long as you’re going to make a quilt for your family, why not make it especially meaningful?  I’m thinking about how this might apply to other kinds of work we all do.

In particular, I’ve been wondering how I might re-think some of the ways I teach in the classroom.  I mean, if I’ve got to give a lecture to students, is there a way to made a lecture especially meaningful to them?  I’m not going to make a quilt for each of them.  But what kind of experience could I try to offer?

That’s what I’ve been thinking about the past day or so.  Here’s what I’ve been able to come up with.  (It’s not much, but maybe it’s a start.)

As part of an upcoming lecture, I need to talk about the way our pre-existing beliefs inevitably shape the way we interpret our experiences of the world.  So, here’s what I think I’ll do.  I’m going to buy a bag of apples for the classroom.  And then I’ll pass them out, and ask each person to take a bite.  But I’ll give the following instructions.

I’ll ask them to concentrate on keeping their lower jaws still, while sinking their upper front teeth down into the apple as they take a bite.  Once I’ve done that, I’ll ask them if they think they were successful in following the instruction.

Then I’ll explain that, for us humans, it’s actually impossible to move our upper teeth downward.  We can only bite by moving our lower jaws upward.  Then I’ll ask them to take another bite, and see whether their experience changes in terms of “what it seems that I’m doing” when biting an apple.

Well, this experiment isn’t exactly rocket science.  But it’s the best I’ve been able to come up with so far.  My hope is not only that the students will remember the lesson.  I also hope that they will feel a little more encouraged that their teachers are genuinely interested in them.  (I’ve found snacks often help in that regard!)

I’m sure other teachers have better ideas than this one.  That’s one reason it’s important to share ideas and best practices with one another.

For me, the main point in all this is: if we have to do some kind of work anyway, then we might as well try to find ways to make our work meaningful to others in some way.  At least, that’s the lesson I take away from the example of the patchwork quilt.  Now I suppose I just need to start getting more creative.

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Kevin Kinghorn serves as editor of the Faith and Work Collective blog. He is Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Asbury Theological Seminary. His undergraduate work (Emory) was in economics and political science. His graduate work (Asbury; Yale; Oxford) and current teaching has focused on topics within philosophy of religion and moral philosophy. He lives in Mt. Sterling, KY, where he and his wife Barbara work toward community transformation, providing music and art opportunities for children.

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