By Kari Diane Pike
(Marsha, if you hadn’t sent the link to the Six LDS Writer’s and a Frog blog, this post would have been posted many hours sooner.)
During the October, 2007 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Dalin Oaks gave a wonderful talk titled “Good, Better, Best”. Since then, I have listened to and participated in several lively discussions about determining what defines good, better, and best and how we can apply that in our lives.
During a dinner table discussion with my children, the opportunity came up to share and teach the concept of good, better, and best. Grade reports had been sent home and our 15-year-old daughter had dropped from having an “A” in English, to a “B”. When I asked her about the reasons for the drop in her grade, she became quite defensive and flat out told me that a “B” is above average and so it was good enough. Lots of her friends were struggling to just pass, so she felt like getting a “B” was no big deal. Of course a lively discussion ensued. (I’ll leave that to your imagination…hint…her Dad’s countenance was not exactly full of light. His thinking is if she could send and receive 9975 text messages in a 28 day period, she has time to get an “A” in English.) Anyway…during a Relief Society lesson the next Sunday, I asked for input as to how to teach our children to recognize and choose between good, better, and best, while the world teaches them that whatever they do is “good enough,” just as long as they "pass." After the meeting ended, a beautiful young woman, Kara, approached me. She was home on break from her studies at George Wythe University. Her eyes glittered with tears as she said,
“Sister Pike, can I share a thought with you? I have known you since I was a little girl and I have learned so much from you. I want to tell you what I learned at school that I think will help you understand how to help your children. You have helped me so much, and I feel so excited to be able to share something that will help you. Our university president often gives the morning devotionals himself. Recently he spoke to the student body about these three words. ‘Inspire, don’t require.’ I don’t think I need to really explain it to you…I know you understand. Its right in the scriptures, isn’t it? Isn’t that the Lord’s plan?”
Wow. And little did I know how well those three words would serve in the days to come. I knew something bothered me about one of the new teachers at our youngest son’s school and I hadn’t been able to put my finger on it. I saw my son losing his spark and enthusiasm about learning and being challenged. Instead of spending extra time on assignments and looking for extra projects, he began writing yes and no answers and asking to play more video games. Then I read as essay he wrote for another class.
“Mrs. _____, former teacher of mine, is an exceptional relationer, extraordinarily well-experienced teacher, and her ideas were ‘oohed’ and ‘awed’ at by the class. Mrs.____, my current teacher, though okay and has her good moments now and then, is a bit too old school. (You know, 1 whisper = time out / chick=young lady I barely slouch = sit straight up) She’s good at teaching, don’t get me wrong, but her style and taste just don’t work out with me, unlike that of Mrs. _____.” Levi goes on the explain how the new teacher always tells the kids she has to teach by the assessment so she can’t give them “free days” the way the previous teacher did. “Mrs. _____ would let us have a free-day but, while we were playing, she would teach us about what we were doing.”
This became my “Aha!” moment. As I reviewed the school year, I could see the pattern clearly and I recognized what bothered me so much. The new teacher “requires” more than she “inspires.” She was so caught up in keeping to “the rules” and teaching to the “assessments” that she forgot about her students’ needs to learn how to learn and how to discover joy in the process. Her teaching is “good.” Her students are learning facts. But her teaching could be the “best” and her students could be inspired to learn how to ask questions and find answers.
Perhaps I’m stretching things a bit, but I can see how we can apply this to our writing as well. How often do we let “writing to the rules” diminish our joy of writing words? How often do we settle for writing something good, when we could have been writing our best? Do we look for inspiration or do we just give the facts?
Where do you find your inspiration as you write? Can our writing be a source of inspiration, even when we are writing fiction? Should it?