Leadership Spokane is committed to the truism that leaders always learn. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I watched the excellent movie “Wonder” about a child with a serious facial disfigurement he was born with and how he handles himself attending school and dealing with bullying. It is a movie that highlights the importance of family relationships and focuses on the personal courage of the young August or “Auggie” as he goes by. For most of the movie, the young boy enjoys wearing a space helmet because it hides his disfigurement. But in a broader sense, the space helmet represents Auggie’s hope for a better life outside the cruel real world.
The movie reminded me that “wonder” is such an important ideal to hold onto as we get older. Rene Descartes, in his Passions of the Soul, saw wonder as the first of all passions. Wonder is generally defined as admiration caused by something beautiful. Children embody wonder with their appreciation of beauty and newness. For example, seeing a tropical island surrounded by aqua blue water for the first time would instill in a child a sense of awe and wonder. Seeing a shooting star for the first time may also likewise ignite the imagination and inspire wonder.
As leaders, cherishing wonder and creating it in the workplace is a means to ensure our horizons are boundless. As we mature, holding onto to our childhood wonder is hard. As we age, we become more cynical, more experienced and less likely to pause to find beauty in our lives. The famous childhood book “Santa Express” shares that as we grow older, we have a harder and harder time hearing Santa’s bells and thus our ability to believe vanishes.
How can you retain wonder in the workplace? One, leaders should create a work environment that is more conducive to free thought and experimentation. Local CEO Tyler Lafferty has created this environment in his growing digital ad agency, Seven2, where employees are motivated to work hard but likewise they enjoy an open, collegial and fun environment to collaborate with fellow employees. Two, leaders must encourage experimentation, risk taking and manage failure when it occurs. Exploring possibilities can only happen if leaders wonder. Three, leaders should encourage an appreciation of beauty. Decorated workplaces, plentiful art and other flourishes help in this endeavor. Back to Seven2 – Tyler encourages charitable giving every year from his employees , which deepens appreciation for the community and nurtures a sense of wonder.
Granville Angell in an August 2006 column, “The Importance of Wonder and Awe,” notes that one of the greatest 20th Century theologians, Abraham Joshua Heschel once said, “Mankind will not perish for want of information; but only for want of appreciation. The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living.” Yes, wonder or a feeling of amazement makes us feel young again. Every time I go to Disney, I feel the wonder I felt as a child. The nostalgia of it all lifts my mood and instills within me a sense of youthful strength.
Auggie wondered for a better life the whole movie, hiding behind his astronaut helmet to dream it. By the end of the movie, he realized his admiration was really fueled by his family and true friends who never were too far away. A line in the movie by Auggie’s homeroom teacher reminded me of the importance of a life well lived: “Our deeds are the monuments of our life.” If we never lose our sense of childhood wonder and amazement, the monuments in our life will be mighty indeed. Leaders wonder.
Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. ~ Stephen Hawking