Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Foil

Yesterday was the first day of classes here at USD for the Fall semester. (Hence my delay in posting for this week.) I spent much of the day greeting students who were excited to be back in this element. Pleased to see their friends after a summer away. Eager for what this next term holds. I, too, was filled with a sense of energy and excitement as we officially "opened" another year at USD. Just before 11am, I was reminded of a concept I had considered the week before - the concept of a foil.

Definition of Foil: A foil is generally a character whose traits emphasize the strengths of another character, usually the protagonist. For example, the often short-sighted opinions of Dr. Watson emphasize the brilliance of Sherlock Holmes. Less usual is a plot foil, a subplot that contrasts with the main plot and brings it into sharper focus. The light-hearted romance between Nerissa and Gratiano in The Merchant of Venice highlights the more serious courtship of Portia and Bassanio. The term "foil" comes from the practice of placing a piece of metallic foil under a gemstone to make it appear to shine more. (
Just as I was walking into my 11am meeting, my partner called my cell phone. Since this is not a typical thing, I paused outside the door of my meeting to answer. He had just finished a pastoral visit with our friends. He was letting me know that within 24 hours, our friend would be going into surgery to remove a baseball size brain tumor that was unknown to anyone just 36 hours earlier. Sadness, fear, grief all gripped me in that moment. A foil to all of the excitement and light around me.

Last week, I received a call from a friend who is volunteering with a suicide crisis hotline. There had been a particularly difficult call. A variety of emotions were competing for attention - sadness, empathy, compassion, pride and happiness. The outcome was a foil to the knowledge that my friend had done good work, said the right things, and was resting in the reality that there was not more that a person could do.

This concept is where I rest this week. Where does the bad sharpen the image of the good? Does it make it sweeter, sharper, more real? Does all that is around you draw out your strengths as a leader? As we seek to bring change to the world, does our passion and intensity contrast the complacency of others? 

As we engage the world around us, I wholeheartedly believe - YES! As we celebrate together, we also prepare for discourse. As we work to grow and learn, we may argue and grow frustrated. That is our foil as organizations. As individuals, you may be elected to the position you have dreamed of while your parents announce a divorce. You achieve a 4.0 only to discover betrayal from a loved one. This is the foil of individuals. But, we are here together to reflect that greater light... The "practice of placing a piece of metallic foil under a gemstone to make it appear to shine more."

Blessings to you all, my friends, as we begin a semester together.

1 comment:

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed the post. I would also agree, I believe the bad and misfortune we endure only makes our fortunes that much sweeter. I find myself, however, advising a particular chapter of men that don’t often view things in those terms. I have noticed that some people solely focus on the bad. They embody it and lose sight of other realities. Contemplating this chapter’s issues I couldn't help but think of a story I once heard: (I’m paraphrasing….)

    A traveler approached a town he had never been to before. In the middle of the town he noticed men lifting heavy stones, stones larger than he had ever seen before. He a approached the first worker and said, “Why are you lifting these enormous stones?” The first worker responded with a gruff, “Because it was the only work I could get.” The traveler followed up with, “Are you happy doing this?” The first worker scoffed and said, “NO! I’m miserable. I lift heavy stones all day, the sun burns my back and my hands bleed.” The traveler, afraid of the worker, decided to move on. He noticed, however, a second worker, who seemed to be enjoying the physical labor. He approach him and said, “Why are you so happy? You lift stones all day, you get burned and your hands are bleeding!” The second worked smiled and said, “Good sir! I am building a cathedral. I’m am helping build something that will be here thousands of years after I am gone. People will travel far and wide to pray and visit God’s house. How could I possibly be unhappy? I couldn't imagine doing anything else.”

    What I find interesting about the post is that in order for people to appreciate and acknowledge the foils in life, they have to be able to have the perspective to see them. So much of what we do has such significance, yet it is overshadowed by the “problems” of the present. I certainly don’t mean to diminish anyone’s suffering or grief, hardly. I’m simply saying as an adviser I have found my role often comes down to offering a different perspective. Life will continually surprise us with good times and with bad, but it is up to us and the people we love to offer the alternate perspectives which serve as the foil that illuminates the gem. Thank you for the thought.