When I was in primary school the only way that I might quickly find information on a particular subject was to go to one of our bookshelves lined with maroon-ish colored hardbound volumes. Carefully spelling out the key word (the Ss were two volumes!) and it would take longer if one didn’t remember “i before e,” a paragraph or three could be found, perhaps alongside a diagram or picture. And that was all the information one really needed.
The first edition of Encyclopædia Britannica was published almost 200 years before I was born in 1768 by “a society of gentlemen in Scotland.” While encyclopedias have existed for over 2000 years—Marcus Terrentius Varro’s, Nine Books of Disciplines appeared c. 30BCE—these contained mainly collections of treaties on the natural sciences, histories, etc. Later collections would include religious and philosophical compendiums.
The French Encyclopédie—the first major collection to resemble modern volumes—was perceived as more French Enlightenment driven. Scotsmen, Collin Macfarquhar and Andrew Bell envisioned the more conservative Britannica as countermeasure – organizing information, cross-referencing to provide a resource more accessible and to more people.
Fast forward to 1993 when Rick Gates proposes the first on-line encyclopedia. A free-as-in-freedom concept (vs. merely open source) was outlined by Richard Stallman the end of 2000. But it was Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger who finally launch Wikipedia in 2001, using Ward Cunningham’s 1995 technology and concept of the wiki. It has become one of the most frequently visited site with a recorded 18 billion page views in the month of August 2015 alone. As of November 2015 the English version contains over 5,000,000 articles.
And all of this information—not to mention the seemingly infinite content WWW-wide—is available with a touch to a smartphone. Anytime. Anywhere (well, with cell service and/or wireless connection). And when any child can look up whatever he or she wants to know, why would kids need to defer to adults as expert of anything? What is compelling about considering those older than me as worthy of special regard or respect? When they see how these same adults put a man who reasons as a toddler in our highest office, it’s a very good question.
How do I as a leader, someone entering into her second half-century (oy vey!) acquire the respect of those younger – when they can just look up a YouTube video that demonstrates mindfulness technique or breathing exercise? Or open an app to find the sense of a Hebrew word in context? What does it matter that I hold certifications in these subjects, or MAs in those or a Doctorate in that?
Perhaps the answer to these questions is as ancient as our oldest texts: relationship. Historically, vocations and information were imparted during the relational apprenticeship. The older, (presumably) wiser individual came alongside the younger person eager to learn the trade or gain knowledge in the discipline. Respect – authentic respect, vs. fear – is only earned, cannot be demanded. And it is hard-won in the context of trust-building relationship. This takes time. And relationships are not easy. They require commitment, a sort of covenant to see this agreement through. And persisting, choosing to remain to see the process through is the worthiest aim for respect.
It is more difficult than ever to forge relationships of this sort. Most young people are more content to communicate via smartphones and computers. As I type, my youngest son is “playing” with his best friend—while he remains in our living room and his friend mere blocks away. These 40 days of meditations are ways for me to process and work through how I might enter this new phase in my life. Some ideas have come to light, and processing with my dearest friend from college has been invaluable. Still, I would love to hear from others who have thoughts, comments, ideas, encouraging words. Perhaps you might like to join me?