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Bob Woolley* had been running his Astronomical Adventures program in Arizona for several years. He gave tours of the Grand Canyon and other sites during the day, and at night his guests enjoyed tours of the night sky with his massive homemade telescopes.
A tour of the Canyon
On one particular tour, Bob and his guests had just arrived at their first stop at the Grand Canyon. Unlike other tours that simply show their guests the canyon or offer them mule rides to the bottom, Bob takes his guests on an awe-inspiring scientific journey spanning four billion years. With the deftness of a professional storyteller, Bob explains the original formation of Earth and its many layers over the eons. He then tells how over several million years, the Colorado River cut a mile-deep and ten-mile-wide canyon through the Arizona plains.
Looking out at the canyon, his guests saw each layer as Bob described what Earth was like when that particular layer was at the surface and active with life. He described what the plants and animals looked like at the time and if they would have been standing on solid ground or buried beneath miles of ocean water.
Then, in the middle of this fascinating story, one of Bob’s guests pointed excitedly to the sky over Bob’s shoulder and blurted out,
Look! A hawk!
Bob’s performance screeched to a halt like a Broadway actor’s speech stopped in mid-sentence by an unsilenced cell phone. His whole audience turned their attention to the hawk gracefully soaring over the canyon.
Frustrated at such a rude interruption to his well-rehearsed routine, Bob barked at her, “Hey, are you more interested in a hawk or in the Grand Canyon?” Her smile and elation vanished as quickly as they had appeared. Embarrassed and humiliated, this grown woman started to cry. Bob continued his scientific discussion, but with a gloomy pall hanging overhead.
Afterwards, it became clear that some of the other guests were upset with Bob for mistreating her. Once he took a few minutes to digest that, he realized the mistake he’d made. Bob had seen lots of red-tailed hawks. But she hadn’t. His even more interesting insight was this: Bob was thinking that she could see a hawk in lots of places, but you can only see the Grand Canyon at the Grand Canyon. What he realized was that the beauty of the hawk was fleeting. It would only be there for an instant. Thirty seconds later, those rocks would still be there.
The whole ordeal made him rethink his priorities for appreciating beauty. Sometimes the thing that you should pay attention to is the thing that won’t be there a moment later. It’s worth the distraction. Like that moment just after sunset when the entire western sky turns a deep reddish-orange, just moments before the gray dusk consumes it. Or the butterfly that lands on your shoulder to say hello and then flits away. Or the look of joy and wonder in your child’s eyes right after saying, “Daddy, look what I did!” But if you look five seconds later, all you’ll hear is, “Aw, you missed it.”
Bob ended up apologizing to the woman. Looking back, what he might rather have done is thank her for the countless fleeting things of beauty he hasn’t missed ever since.
As with all the stories in these podcasts, I encourage you to share this with your kids, and then have a discussion about it. Here are some questions to get you started. These aren’t just questions to ask your kids. Some are questions you should be asking yourself, too.
- Has anyone ever interrupted you because something interesting was happening they didn’t want to miss? Were you upset by that? Or glad they did it?
- What was the last beautiful thing you missed because you didn’t want to be distracted?
- When was the last time that you stopped what you were doing just to see something beautiful that wouldn’t be there a moment later? A rainbow? A brief clear view of the moon on a cloudy night? Whatever it was, are you glad you saw it? Or do you wish you’d kept doing what you were doing?
- How do you know when it’s appropriate to interrupt someone and when it would be better to wait until they’re finished talking?
- Have you ever seen a red-tailed hawk soaring over the Grand Canyon? Would you like to?
* Bob no longer conducts his multi-day Arizona excursions. But if you catch him in a good mood, sometimes you can hire him for day tours of the Canyon and surrounding areas. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[You can find this and over 100 other character-building stories in my book, Parenting with a Story.]
Paul Smith is one of the world’s leading experts on business storytelling. He’s a keynote speaker, storytelling coach, and bestselling author of the books Lead with a Story and Parenting with a Story.
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