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The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.   –Aristotle

My father-in-law is very sick.  It started with just an issue with his heart.  They put in a pacemaker to fix the off-beat but then something else went wrong.  The next test caused a tear in an artery.  Then the heart beats changed and he didn’t need a pacemaker but a deliberator.  Each new procedure led to a new collapse and another hospital stay.  His spirit has suffered.  His muscles have weakened and new organs have begun to scream for attention.  What is going on? We all wonder and question.  Perhaps it’s that my father-in-law is more than just a heart.

Fixing one thing doesn’t necessarily fix everything.

I write in a coffee shop.  On the outside, it’s just like every other coffee shop.  The coffee is good and the staff is friendly.  But it’s just a coffee shop.  Except it’s more than that.  There is a buzz here, an energy of positive emotion.  Day after day, I watch the owner in deep conversation with each of his staff members.  I overheard him talking to one about how they are a tribe and part of their goal is to open and extend the tribe to the community, offering them a welcoming place to connect, work and sip coffee.  Part of it is just good business, but it’s more than that.

There is a wholeness, a spirit here that is more than just good coffee.

Horseback riding is a thrilling activity but it’s only one part of horse ownership.  Daily feeding, stall cleaning, grooming and caring are the price paid for a ride.  But the bond created between a horse and his girl is much more than all of those daily chores.  It is a connection of voice, body, mind and soul.  It’s a bond foraged through work and connected through spirit.  As Winston Churchill once said, “there is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”

Each part of horse care brings you closer to a wholeness with yourself and the horse.

I once heard a hockey coach share a speech with student athletes about how excellence isn’t singular.  The best hockey players are often also the best teammates and the best students.  If you want to excel in one area like hockey, you need to focus on more than just the game.  You need to get proper sleep, you need to eat healthy, you need to develop positive relationships, you need to develop personal habits of learning and fun.

It’s more than just hockey, it’s a whole mindset of excellence.

At school, we measure students with tests and grades.  We ask them to be thinkers, creators and problem solvers and then we measure their achievements with multiple choice questions.  We dissect what they need to know into actionable standards and measurable outcomes.  We rate them, grade them, color code them and group them all in an effort to identify what they have learned and how much.  But this doesn’t tell us anything about the stories they carry in their minds, the dreams they have about what they might create, the friends they make and the relationships they build.  The test score is like a tiny dot in an impressionist painting.

The whole student, like the painting, is much more dynamic,

engaging and complete than a single mark.

Recently there has been another case of school violence.  I didn’t think I would write about it until I read this article in the New York Times.  The student who wrote this article reminded me that once again we are trying to solve the whole problem by looking at just a small part.  Guns or no guns.  Teachers armed or not armed.  It’s like a would you rather game where both options leave you with a really bad taste in your mouth.  The problem is all of our politics right now are still just focusing on a small part of the problem.  The whole picture is much, much bigger.  You can’t fix a heart without fixing the body and mind.  It takes more than just coffee to create a buzzing atmosphere.  You can’t touch the soul of a horse until you’ve groomed his coat and cleaned his stall.  Aspiring for excellence is more than just being a good athlete and students are more than the grades and marks we give them.  We have a lot of work to do.  We each play a part and together we are whole.

Let’s start by focusing less on the parts

and more one what part we can do to make us whole again.

Thanks Elena Peterson for sharing your photography and your spirit!

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