Once when I was a little kid (preschooler, I think), I was out running errands with my mom. I was sporting a handmade dress and a friendly adult asked me, “Did your mommy make that for you?” I proudly answered, “No, my Daddy did!”
My dad isn’t a tailor, and he’s no Tim Gunn, either. He loves sailing, and learned to sew so he could fashion canvas into sails. (And, okay, made some threads for the toddlers, too.) About ten years after I bragged on his stitching skills, he bought me a sewing machine and taught me how to sew. I was thinking about him last weekend as I logged the millionth hour on that machine, putting together the first of many handmade Christmas gifts. I thought about how much I enjoy using it, and how thankful I am that he took the time to teach me.
This is no small thing, teaching someone how to do something, but I sometimes think we’ve lost sight of just how important it is. Of course we understand the practicality of it: think of the Chinese Proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” But it has an impact much greater than the vocational. Imagine how different your life would be if you hadn’t been taught to read. For those of us lucky enough to have been taught about music, writing, and art, imagine life without these means of expression. Think about how much richer your life is with all the things that you know about, how your knowledge and skills have shaped who you are. Then think about the people who took the time to share what they knew so you could know it, too.
My brother-in-law lived with his grandparents after he graduated from college. Before he left for graduate school he gave his computer to his 80-year-old grandfather. Then he taught him how to use it. Grandpop stayed in touch with family from all over the world, getting pictures and updates that kept him connected until the end of his life. What a generous gift! Imagine all the things you know that could help someone else, maybe even change their life. What are you waiting for?!
I follow a group of people on Twitter and recently considered dropping it altogether because of scheduling. (I have lots of things to do that require me to Step Away From The Computer, and it’s just plain addictive to read what other people are thinking and doing all day.) I realized that what keeps me coming back to that community is the generosity, the commitment they have not only to learning new things but to sharing what they learn. How often does that happen these days? How often have you asked someone a question and received their impatience? Did they put you off—or pawn you off on someone else? How often have they acted like their knowledge was locked away and you needed a special key or magical password to access it? Then consider: how often have you hoarded your own knowledge?
There’s a place for company secrets and proprietary formulas. But when the guy in the next cubicle asks you for help, try taking that as a compliment. Try saying, “Thank you for asking!” Remember how much help you received when you were just starting out, how much you still rely on others to learn new things, and how great it feels when someone else offers to teach you. And share what you know. I’m starting to teach my daughter how to sew, and hoping that she’ll enjoy it as much as I have. What have you taught today?