I See a Red-Tailed Hawk!

A few years ago when I was conducting a presentation skills workshop, a participant gave a short speech on the red-tailed hawk. He spoke of how often you see them along Midwest interstates perched on a post or low hanging branch during winter months, waiting for their prey in the thickets or heavy ground cover below.

I remember thinking, “I don’t remember ever seeing one along the highway. He must be stretching the truth a little.”  The next winter I began looking for them as I traveled.  He had mentioned that you had to look carefully because they are so still they might look like an extension of the post or branch they are sitting on. 

Guess what?  I began to see them along the highway. I travel I-74 West from Cincinnati to Indianapolis often, and I find that I average about two red-tailed hawks per hundred miles.

Now you will be noticing the red-tailed hawks because have been made aware of them and will be looking for them along the interstates. We pay attention to things we are looking for.

The Ultimate Attention-Getting Device

My students taught me that teaching should be fun, but, as with children, I didn’t always enjoy the lessons I learned.

I was teaching a basic speech class and the assignment was to get the attention of the audience. I did not specify how to do this and, in retrospect, realize I probably should have. One student got up to speak with a banana cream pie in her hands. She planned to throw it at her friend in the front row. He was, I found out later, wearing old clothes and had a towel under his seat.

I typically sit in the back of the room to get a good feel for the audience response to the speaker, but that day the only available seat was directly behind this young man. (You can already see what’s coming.) The speaker’s goal was to get the audience’s attention by throwing the pie at her conspirator.

She had terrible aim and missed him completely. Instead, the pie hit me in the chest and banana cream pie splattered all over my face, my clothes, and my glasses. The class went silent. I looked at myself as well as I could through pie-spattered glasses. I had pie everywhere. I was stunned.

I made a sound that to the students sounded like a chuckle. (It was not.) When that “chuckle” was heard, the class broke into laughter and applause. They were hysterical. They thought it was the funniest event in any class they had ever been in, making it the best class ever.

Frankly, I did not feel the same way. However, I did the best I could under the circumstances. I took the young man’s towel and wiped off the chunks of pie around and on me. I asked the girl if she could go ahead and speak and she did a very fine job.

After that experience, the class became more at ease with me and other members of the class. I believe a factor in their behavior was that they thought their instructor had a sense of humor. He didn’t—but he learned from the experience.

With This Ring

A few days ago I had a surgical procedure at a local hospital. In times past when I have had surgery, the staff would ask me to remove my wedding ring, but when I protested they would allow me to tape it to my finger.

The rules have changed. The person registering me told me I would need to take it off. I resisted and she allowed me to go to the pre-operation area. I was told again that I would have to take off all jewelry; but I acted as though I had not heard them since another nurse was asking me questions and giving me instructions.

Finally, a nurse with a stern look said, “You must take off the ring for safety reasons.”

I slowly looked up at my wife as I twisted the ring off my finger for the first time in nearly 47 years of marriage. I found myself tearing up in spite of trying hard to keep my composure. The room became very quiet. The three people in the room could sense an emotional connection between us–two people who love each other very much and have an unspoken commitment that goes beyond the words, “With this ring I thee wed….”

One lady, trying to break the charged silence, gently said, “You will still be married.” 

I knew that. This bond was beyond the visual aspect of a ring. This was an affirmation of 47 years of rearing two children, dealing with heartaches of losing our parents and other dear people, and of supporting each other in careers. This was an affirmation of sacrifices that each had made to help the other become the kind of person God wanted us to be.

There are times when the emotional connection outweighs contracts, handshakes, and signing on the dotted line. This was such a time.

Too Many Questions

A point I often make in my listening classes is that to be a good listener, you must learn to ask open-ended questions.  But I have also learned that you can ask too many questions. This story demonstrates that point.             

As teachers, we spend much time motivating our students to listen.  For many years, my wife taught third grade.  One year she had a student named Derek.  Derek was always getting into trouble.  One Friday afternoon she lost patience with his many actions, which had nothing to do with learning but lots to do with hindering the learning of others.

She took him out into the hallway for a private conversation.  She closed the door and in her best third grade teacher voice said, “Derek, what is your problem?  You have pulled Susie’s hair, written on Jodi’s books, and pushed Leah’s papers off her desk.  What is your problem?” 

He thought for a long time and then said, “Mrs. Boyd, my problem is that I’m sitting in the middle of a bunch of tattle tales.” 

When he said that, my wife almost laughed out loud.  She ushered him back into the classroom with only a mild reprimand.   She had asked one question too many.