TITLE: It's Not About Me
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: January 25, 2007 4:52 PM
Our dean is relatively new in his job, and one of the tasks
he has been learning about is fundraising. It seems that
this is one of the primary roles that deans and other to-level
administrators have to fill in these days of falling state
funding and rising costs.
This morning he gave his department heads a short excerpt from
Asking: A 59-Minute Guide
to Everything Board Members, Volunteers, and Staff Must Know
to Secure the Gift. Despite the massive title, apparently
each chapter of the book is but a few chapters, focused on
a key lesson. The excerpt we received is on this kernel:
Donors give to the magic of an idea. Donors
don't give to you because you need money. Everybody needs money.
Donors give because there is something you can do.
For some reason, this struck as a lesson I have learned over the
last few years in a number of different forms, in a number of
different contexts. I might summarize the pattern as "It's not
about me." Donors don't give because I need; they give because
I can do something, something that matters out there. In the
realm of interpersonal communication, the hearer is the final
determinant of what is communicated. Listeners don't hear
what I say; they hear what they understand me to have said.
Creating Passionate Users
often talks about selling how my book or software is about
empowering my users
-- not about me, or any of the technical things that matter to me.
The same applies to teachers. While in an important sense my
Programming Languages course is about the content we want students
to learn, in a very practical sense the course is about my students:
what they need and why, how they learn, and what motivates them.
Attending only to my interests or to the antiseptic interests of
the "curriculum" is a recipe for a course almost guaranteed not to
Let's try this on. "Students don't learn because you think they
need something. They learn because there is something they
can do with their new knowledge." They learn because the
magic of an idea.
That sounds about right to me. Like any pattern taken too far
in a new context, this one fails if I overreach, but it does a
pretty good job of capturing a basic truth about teaching and
learning. Given the many forms this idea seems to take in so
many contexts, I think it is just the sort of thing we mean
by a pattern.