I am pleased to have Keven Fletcher join us here at Nothing Any Good. Mr. Fletcher is a Chaplain and Faculty Mentor at St. Michaels University School in Victoria BC. His first book—When It Matters Most—is set to be released on June 7th and is currently available for pre-order. Welcome Keven!
Glad to be here.
I’m going to skip a softball opener and come out of the gates with a 90 MPH slider. You’ve written that the old adage, “You did the best you could,” can not only be misleading, (e.g. your best isn’t always good enough), but can also be detrimental. What you seem to theorize, if I can crassly distil it, is that sometimes our best actually has a negative impact, so simply saying that I tried my best is not enough. I need to reflect on where my best failed and learn to improve. (Correct me if I’m misrepresenting your thoughts.) If you will allow me to take your theory one step further, though, if my best has a negative impact, wouldn’t not trying at all have been better than trying and creating a negative?
Great slider! I have a totally satisfying answer:
Okay, not very satisfying, but hear me out.
If you ask me to prepare pufferfish for dinner tonight and I’m not an expert, rather than trying my best, I should probably defer to someone who knows what they’re doing or offer you salmon in its place. In a high risk case such as this, doing my best isn’t necessarily the same as doing what’s right. It’s better to not try at all, period.
That being said, let’s assume that I’ve been trained in the preparation of fugu and you understand the poison risks. In this case, I’m in a position to offer you the pufferfish. Of course, I should offer my best work. Anything less courts disaster.
Now imagine that despite my best efforts tonight, you get sick from the meal (sorry). This happens, even in the world of master chefs. The popularity of the meal is partially connected to the risk – the foodie equivalent of bungee jumping.
My response to the situation is crucial. If I shrug my shoulders, ignore the outcome, and simply hope that you won’t get sick next time, I’m not really offering my best in its most important sense (even though I am doing my best in the moment). If this is the case, it would be more accurate to simply say that I’m doing the same as before.
Quite differently, doing my best in its fuller sense entails figuring out where I missed the mark and learning all I can to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. It’s ultimately about my willingness to learn and grow, rather than any single meal’s effort.
This being said, the stakes aren’t usually so high. Most often, we’re well positioned to (1) do our best in the moment, (2) learn from our subsequent successes/shortcomings, and (3) apply those learnings to the next rounds. My suggestion is that we can’t stop at step one and slap on a vacant approval statement. We are only truly at our best when we incorporate all three.
For the record, I’ve neither prepared nor eaten fugu. I avoid it for the same reason that I avoid bungee jumping – life is thrilling enough.
So it seems you’re more concerned with people not learning from their mistakes and being content. I’m a basketball fan and there are two quotes by two different coaching greats that I think apply. John Wooden, the UCLA coaching legend, once said, “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have the time to do it over?” Another great coach and current president of the Miami Heat once wrote, “Anytime you stop striving to get better, you’re bound to get worse.” I love both of those.
Now that we’ve gone from 0-100 in one question…Your website (www.kevenfletcher.com), and I can only assume part of your pastoral mission as well, focuses on how to create a meaningful life. What does your inspiration for creating meaning in people’s lives come from? Is it from your own hard-learned failures to create meaning or the thrashing of others searching without finding meaning?
People fascinate me. Some seem compelled to create a deep sense of purpose in life, while others seldom move past the surface. We’re all scattered across this spectrum, seemingly without correlation to privilege, education, or health. When I come across people who are strong, vulnerable, and resilient, I wonder how it happens – what ways of thinking, what patterns of behaviour lead to lives that are so full of meaning?
It’s not that my own life has been marked by extraordinary challenges or that I’ve benefited from remarkable adventures. The gift I’ve received has been exposure to a wide cross-section of people at very significant moments in their lives.
Through these encounters, I’ve come to conclude that we both receive and offer the most in our lives when a sense of greater purpose and meaning guides our thoughts and actions.
Have you read “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Victor Frankl? Has it impacted your work at all?
Frankl is a personal hero. He influences my work whether I directly reference him or not. The book you mention is one of my favourites on two counts.
First, Frankl provides a powerful example as to how we always have a choice. I’ve spoken more than a few times about how I don’t draw this conviction regarding the enduring existence of choice from my own life. Mine has neither been particularly challenging nor adventurous. But Frankl, he talked about the existence of choice within the context of his personal experience of four concentration camps and the loss of his immediate family. He witnessed its power in both the guards and prisoners, and we, his readers, see it in him.
Second, Frankl concluded that people need a sense of meaning in their lives. What’s so important is that he wasn’t fixated on a particular meaning, such as a doctrinal stance or specific worldview. Rather, my understanding is that he believed that people need to find a meaning that reflects their individuality.
I was introduced to Frankl’s work by a dear friend who happened to be re-reading his favourite books as death neared. It’s an example of the gifts I’ve been handed by people whose paths I’ve been fortunate to cross. You meet my friend in the book, over a glass of Guiness.
Your first book—When It Matters Most—looks at creating purpose and acceptance in relationships by exploring the wisdom of Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, and Taoism. What inspires you to explore the wisdom of all of those traditions?
I think that wisdom stories are powerful tools for stimulating reflection. They tend to be universal, transcending cultures and times. Because the tales usually offer several layers of understanding, the same story can offer different insights at different points in our lives. On top of this, the story format makes the wisdom memorable and accessible, which renders the messages easier to call upon when needed.
As for the breadth of stories used in the book, I think that we sometimes get caught up in our own traditions. More and more, though, we’re coming to understand and appreciate the global nature of the human endeavour. These stories allow us to dip into the full breadth of what that outlook offers.
The novel expresses this broader approach through more than the wisdom tales. Though set in a single location, its characters reflect a wide spectrum of humanity in terms of our ethnic, social, economic, gender, and sexual diversity. Again, it’s about the broader picture.
Were you afraid of the undertaking of exploring the wisdom of all these ancient traditions and religions? Did you ever find yourself saying, “Who cares what I think about this?”
I’m glad you care enough to offer this interview!
The initial drive to produce the novel stemmed from a desire to share the wisdom stories more widely. In my own speaking, they’ve generated the strongest, positive response. I have students and faculty who come to me years after leaving the school, who share the stories that stuck with them and made a difference.
Happily, this focus on the stories makes the novel less about what I think and mostly about the wisdom tales themselves. I’ve tried my best to set them into a concrete context that illustrates their power, but in the end, it’s not about what I think. In fact, my only responsibility is to share these narrative gifts from which I’ve benefited.
And best of all, those who don’t care aren’t required to read the book…
I may be projecting, but you seem to be someone that is not only comfortable with paradox, but embraces it. How do you account for the paradoxes that lie within your religious and personal worldviews?
Am I allowed an extended quote? Fritz Williams said:
I believe in cultivating opposite, but complementary views of life, and I believe in meeting life’s challenges with contradictory strategies. I believe in reckoning with the ultimate meaninglessness of our existence, even as we fall in love with the miracle of being alive. I believe in working passionately to make our lives count while never losing sight of our insignificance. I believe in caring deeply and being beyond caring. It is by encompassing these opposites, by being involved and vulnerable, but simultaneously transcendent and detached, that our lives are graced by resilience and joy.
I completely buy into this approach. So much of living a rich life is tied to our ability to choose which end of a paradox to emphasize at a given moment. Each of Fritz’ statements is true. Knowing which way to lean is a product of wisdom. Being able to follow that wisdom takes discipline and practice.
I’m really not sure what to do with worldviews that don’t involve paradox. In a way, it must be wonderful to see life as less complex. It’s just not my experience.
Your Amazon bi-line refers to your wife as “resilient.” Why did you choose this adjective to describe your spouse?
Jenn puts up with me. Not everyone would. But that’s not the full story.
Her family having been hit by a drunk driver when she was young, Jenn’s physical challenges and sheer number of surgeries would have caused lesser souls to crumble. For me and others, she’s an inspiration as to how our framing of events has greater impact than the events themselves. In many ways, she embodies the exercise of choice at the core of Frankl’s work.
She’s been an incredible influence in how I understand my own life and its meaning.
It sounds like you, like me, got too lucky. People say, “Behind every good man is a good woman.” In my case, my wife is miles ahead of me encouraging me to keep up.
I only allow this from time to time, but for your final question, I’m allowing you to interview yourself, but it can’t be a standard interview question that is pre-packaged.
Keven, you prattle on about finding one’s meaning in life. What’s yours?
At the school, we take our grade twelves through an exercise where they identify all the roles they fulfil (son/daughter, student, athlete, friend…). We then ask them to pick the five that they believe to be most significant. Once they’ve gone through that process, we get them to finish the sentence, “I exist in order to…” It’s a simple enough exercise and sets the stage for some deeper thinking.
Of course, what’s good for the participants is good for the leaders. Here’s how I filled in the blanks:
I, Keven Fletcher, am a citizen, spouse/father, chaplain, friend, and writer. I exist in order to cultivate and celebrate growth in others and myself.
It’s the sort of bookmark exercise that one can return to every few years. After all, our understandings grow over time.
Did you notice that I cheated by combining two roles? Perhaps we can chat about my moral failings next time.
Thanks so much for the chance to share!
Thank you, Keven! I am grateful for your time. You seem to have a kind and generous heart. The world needs more men like you.
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About the Author
Drawing on a background in corporate leadership, mediation, and religious thought, Keven Fletcher currently speaks, facilitates, and mentors within a globally diverse, academic community that represents twenty-five countries and five continents. His recent book, When It Matters Most, reflects a distillation of all these roles.