I went to high school in Milwaukee at about the time the television series, Happy Days, was popular. Of course, everyone’s favorite character was Fonzie. And the clique I was a member of in those days had its own Fonzie-like character by the name of Eric.
My classmate Eric was the coolest of the cool. Everything and anything came easily to him. And he shared one other key quality with The Fonz (at least, in my memory of Fonzie) — he relished helping the rest of us look good. And that was the primary source of our respect for him. If we were hoping to take out a particular girl, he would use all his “coolness” to help us be successful. If we wanted our parents to hear how responsible we were acting when we went out at night, he would use all his charms and successfully reassure our parents.
He seemed to be happiest when he was helping us be successful.
I play basketball a lot, though my skill level peaked at mediocre about thirty-five years ago. There are a lot of good basketball players out there, but the ones who get the most respect on the court are the few who are clearly extraordinarily skilled, but use their ability to make the rest of us look good.
They seem to enjoy the game the most by making the rest of us look good.
It seems to me that this quality is beyond empathy, but I don’t know what you’d call it (help me out if you can). And maybe it’s a quality that, no matter what we do, will always be limited to a small number of people.
But I wonder what specific things we can do to help students learn to derive joy not just from helping people, but from helping others look good — from helping others get credit for success.
What do you think?