The Ice Rink Lesson
David Hagstrom ’57, who lives in Portland, Oregon, has received encouragement all his life; he now watches for each opportunity to encourage the deep desires of others.
Typical January temperatures in Fairbanks, Alaska, hover near 20 below zero. Some of my jogging friends would brave the cold and continue their pastime outdoors. I chose an alternative venue, a narrow track circling the Olympic-size hockey rink at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.
When the hockey team was practicing, my run was energized as I watched the puck careening at lightning speed back and forth across the rink. When the team was away, I still used the track for my fitness routine. And, on one occasion, such a quieter time presented me with a lesson that significantly changed my life.
One late afternoon, I noticed a university colleague of mine and his 8-year-old son in the middle of the immense rink. Peter was teaching his son, Andrew, how to ice skate. As I circumnavigated the rink time and time again, I noticed Peter’s calm and patient teaching style.
While Andrew was in the locker room, I said to Peter, “I was so impressed with your way of being with Andrew out there on the ice. What’s your secret?”
“Andrew’s a kid who’s always struggled,” Peter said, “in school, and at home. So, early on, I just focused on what Andrew seemed to have a zeal for. Ever since he learned to walk, Andrew has been totally enthralled with hockey and skates. It’s his major delight. We attend all the university home games. And so, I’m trying my very best to help Andrew learn to ice skate. For some time now my motto has been ‘find out what he’s passionate about, then pour it on.’”
Although born naturally positive — even optimistic — I’d not given much active thought to the practice of thoughtful encouragement. In subsequent conversations, Peter and I talked a good bit about what caring encouragement requires. It entails attentive and meticulous observation in the moment, a steady sense of inconspicuous watchfulness over time, and finally, asking honest questions and deep listening throughout. That’s what Peter and I came to believe. I believe it now, more strongly than ever.
These days my thoughtful encouragement practice remains primarily focused on family, friends, and colleagues. And, over time I’ve come to understand that this way of being with them is not always that easy and straightforward. For instance, what’s to be my response to a person who constantly belittles other people in an effort to always be right or in control?
During a recent social occasion, I observed John finding fault with each and every comment made by another person in the room. Toward the end of the evening, John approached me. I had watched for this opportunity all evening. I asked him, “What are you yearning for in your life, John?”
After a period of silence, he put his hand over his heart and offered a watery-eyed response: “I just want to find a small piece of land where I can live out my life in peace and quiet. I’m not much good with people, but I’m okay on my own.” At that point we were interrupted, and he said, “Thanks, David, for listening and encouraging me.”
Find out what they’re passionate about, then pour it on. It’s been 30 years since I first heard that jewel of wise instruction. I don’t know whether Andrew has gone on to be a hockey star. But I do know that I’ve learned to be a better encourager.