A recent column in the NYT by David Brooks highlights an often ignored but essential ingredient to creating engagement in learning – the power of relationship, passion, and love. He notes that emotion is not the opposite of reason but essential to it. That is because he says that emotions assign value, tell you what to pay attention to, care about and remember. Without emotion it is harder to be engaged in a process. Often emotion is the starting point for being engaged – it serves as a motivator. Faculty who love what they do, both the subject matter and the teaching/learning process, are more likely to engage students and in concert, the students encourage the teachers and enrich the process. I am, if you think back to the teachers or professors from whom you thought you learned the most from, you like me, will agree that they were passionate about the subject and passionate about teaching me.
So you might ask, what does this have to do with the family enterprise? In recent years, we have witnessed a steady increase in interest in preparing the “next generation” for their roles as owners/inheritors of family wealth. Most, but certainly not all of the efforts have gone into the development of programs which are provided by professionals, outsiders to the family emotional system. Families have outsourced this important function to professionals who are interested in addressing the client’s needs. Believing that the critical element is subject matter expertise and that relationship and values can or should be separated from the learning about the specifics of the enterprise, we and the clients we serve, may be missing the very important connections between relationships, values, and learning.
Whether we are aware of it or not, kids learn their most important lessons from watching what their parents and other familial members do. The richness of learning together or at least participating together in a process of learning benefits all those involved, reinforcing and deepening this natural process. It seems clear that advisors who are able to engage the parents AND their offspring in developing and participating in a joint educational experience will create benefits that far outweigh the information that is conveyed. It will enhance the relationships and by incorporating conversations that address the context of why and how and not just the what, there is greater opportunity to foster agency, that is increasing the capacity of individuals to act on their own behalf and make mature choices. It also will give the older generation the opportunity to engage not primarily as people who are experts but rather as partners on the learning journey. This type of learning serves as a great equalizer between parents and kids and opens new avenues for connection.
Families and their advisors might be well served to define learning/education as something we do “with” the generations not “for” them. This includes the values and aspirations side by side with facts and figures. We can help parents teach and learn with their offspring as opposed to becoming their agents. Ultimately, this will increase the family’s capacity to approach life joyfully and curiously together. And isn’t that what learning should be about?