Thursday, October 11, 2012

Other People Matter

Chris is his classic pose
Yesterday, I woke up to a simply worded e-mail. It was from Marty Seligman, and much like his other communications, it was one sentence:

"Chris Peterson, my close friend and closest colleague, died today."

There are probably very little crossover between people who read this blog and people who know who Marty Seligman or Chris Peterson are. Chris' unexpected passing left a community in mourning yesterday. If you are reading this right now and have no idea who I am talking about, I'll give you the one sentence version: Chris Peterson was somebody who's life work was about finding the best in people and it all culminated in a simple phrase "Other People Matter".

If you ever met Chris, you could never forget that phrase. It was overwhelming in it's simplicity. It was also greatly aided by its messenger. Chris didn't just tell you that other people mattered, he showed you. In fact, probably one of Chris' faults (if you could call it that) was how much he lived that phrase. He always seemed to think that "other people" mattered more than himself. He was almost obsessively devoted to selflessness. 

Chris was my professor for a semester of graduate school. That in itself is unremarkable, but the experience of having him for a professor was incredibly intimate. The first time I spoke with him, he had me laying out my life dream within a couple minutes and was devising a plan to help me achieve it.

He inspired me to bring his mantra to my own profession, to realize that "other people matter" is probably the best coaching philosophy anyone could come up with. He helped me realize what makes coaching such an awesome profession. Coaching is a selfless job, and that is what makes it so fulfilling.

Chris was a blogger as well, and in his last entry he eerily addressed his own mortality after seeing nearly thousand year old statues in Japan carved to indvidual models:

"I thought of my own mortality. What would I leave behind? Likely not a gilded statue that would survive for many centuries"

I'd say he did a bit better than that. 

1 comment:

  1. Chris was a mentor to hundreds of graduate and undergraduate students at the University of Michigan. Brilliant, productive, yet unassuming, witty, and warm. I have yet to meet another scholar who is at the top of his field yet is humble, approachable, and ALWAYS made others feel comfortable, heard, important, and worthy. Even though he was very prolific, he found time to mentor students directly, indirectly, go to movies with them, go for a drink, or even keep them company when down (inviting them to his home to watch the NCAA tournament). With his characteristic jeans, polo shirt that quite didn't cover his belly when he sat, and his light black leather jacket (regardless of the weather), Chris was a beacon of comfort for many of us in graduate school. May he rest in peace. We have lost a bright star... May we strive to touch other's souls and minds to the extent he did.

    He was a member of my dissertation committee, not because my study was related to his work, but because he was a nice person who agreed to support students regardless of the topic of their research.