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Gerry ChidiacA wise person once wrote, “On their deathbed, no one ever said, ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office.’”

There’s nothing wrong with being good in our chosen profession, but there’s certainly much more to a person’s life.

My family recently said goodbye to our 89-year-old father. It’s very interesting to listen to the things said about him. Dad was extremely competent in his profession. As a traffic manager for several large manufacturers, he was on the cutting edge of innovation. He saw how using containers would increase efficiency and cut shipping costs, and he worked hard to promote the idea. He often had industrial headhunters offering him a better job in a new location.

My dad did meaningful work. Because of his efforts, customers got the machinery and equipment they needed to improve the quality of their lives. His willingness to learn and his efforts for constant improvement in his field helped modernize the shipping industry. It’s good when one can look back on a career and see a job well done.

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Meaning in life doesn’t come only from work, however. As the family gathers and talks about dad, there’s little mention of his career. We’re talking about how we knew he cared about us, how he made us feel and how he made us laugh. It’s amazing to hear the consistency in the stories about him.

One thing that’s said over and over is that dad loved to engage people in conversation. He was curious, but he also had strong opinions. I engaged in many arguments with him about the cause of the world’s problems and the best way to promote well-being in the developing world. We often agreed to disagree, but we walked away with an awareness that there may have been a grain of truth in what the other person was saying.

My father’s passing is even more profound for my extended family because he’s the last of his generation to pass on. When I think about his interactions with his seven brothers and sisters, I saw the same spirit. Discussions became very loud and heated, but they were never mean. In the end, we were always family. Love is the only word in the English language that expresses the predominant sentiment.

As I reflect on my approach to teaching and writing, I see the influence of my family. I continue to have strong opinions, but I know that the world doesn’t need people who think the same. We need to explore perspectives, listen to each other and allow our ideas to be challenged. This is what Stephen Covey referred to as “creating synergy” in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Of course, there are people who won’t listen, who can’t work with others, people who tell us that only they have the right answers. We seem to have created a culture and media that prefer this type of unbridled dogmatism, thus giving them a powerful soapbox from which to speak. We buy into the same dogmatism when we put one another into ideological boxes.

Perhaps this is the greatest legacy of my father and his family. Society isn’t the same as a family, but honour and respect are still central to all our relationships. We need to recognize when these principles are present and when they’re not. My dad and his siblings always made me feel valued, regardless of my opinions. If others don’t make us feel that way, why should we give them any credibility?

Humanity is diverse, and each person is the gift of who they are. If we keep this in mind, maybe when our time comes, we will leave the world better than we found it.

Gerry Chidiac specializes in languages, genocide studies and works with at-risk students. He is the recipient of an award from the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre for excellence in teaching about the Holocaust. For interview requests, click here.

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