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Get to know your community hub for active older adults! Our Senior Center blog features work from staff and community members, as well as our "In the Spotlight" interview series. If you would like to contribute to the blog or participate in our comments sections, please contact the moderator directly. 

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In the Spotlight: Lessons from history with Paul Flanders

by Erica Illingworth02/07/2018 5:00 AM
Updated: 02/23/2018

In the Spotlight: Paul Flanders brings history to life at the LSC

Hi Paul! I’ve seen your history talks in the GO for a while now—when did you first get involved with the Senior Center and what originally brought you in?Paul Flander's GO Catalog cover

I retired from teaching high school students in 2011. I was considering the ways to fill my time when I met Theresa Shulte and asked to give a talk or two at the Senior Center. Well, she scheduled me in and everyone had a great time. I thought at the time I had about 5 or 6 good talks in me, but now over four years later I’ve given upwards of 30 different lectures at the LSC!

WOW! 30 different talks and you’re still going. How do you keep things fresh and come up with new ideas each month?

I think it’s a couple of different things: I have a community theater background and I love researching history. The research gives me an opportunity to look back twenty years ago and see how things have changed, how new research methods and techniques have uncovered lost pieces of history or solved old mysteries which sometimes reveal we had the wrong conclusion back then; I find new tidbits and coincidences all the time. Once I get at the most evocative parts of the human conflict, the storytelling is easy. I am also a storyteller for Spellbinders and I use some of that acting to embellish and add detail to the most dramatic parts of tale. Our human dramas are fascinating and there’s always a lesson to be learned from history.

Oh, can you say more about lessons? What’s one of the lessons that you’ve learned from history and used in your life?

The most powerful story that comes to mind for me is from our own American history. Abraham Lincoln, taking guidance from the Servant on the Mount, practiced loving his enemies. But, how do you pull this off? Well, in one of my talks I give some examples of the ways that he restrained himself from knee-jerk reactions and each time it paid off for him when he turned enemies like George McLellan into friends. In my own life, I’ve seen this work as a teacher. I’ll tell you, I was a bad student and my karma came back to me when I was teaching—haha! Early in my career, I’d get a disruptive kid in class and I’d take him or her out into the hall and try to be logical: “I have the power. I hold the cards. You don’t want to cross me” kind of thing. After a while, I figured out that it wasn’t working. So, took a lesson from Abe Lincoln and changed my tactic. I learned to take the child into the hallway and let them know, “Hey, I really want this to work and I want to be a better teacher to you. What am I doing wrong? I promise I’ll do what I can to try and get better.” I would give the kid the power—love my enemy—and turn that child into an asset, into a contributor. It feels counterintuitive: when you have the power, you tend to think you should use it, but the lesson from Lincoln is to give it away.

What a great lesson and a powerful story! Thank you for sharing. Can I ask, when you retired, was it difficult to make the step to the Senior Center? Do you feel a stigma attached to getting older?

Teachers practice retirement every summer! Honestly, I have so many irons in the fire and there’s so much to do that there’s never a dull moment. And I had no trepidations about coming to the LSC. I think it’s a mistake for newly retired folks to think “it’s just a bunch of old people.” There are activities that are best if you’re mobile and active, but there’s so much available here that I bet anyone can find some group or class to interest them. If you wait, that’s okay, too, but the LSC is at its best when you’re a younger senior, in my opinion.

Do you attend classes here as well as teach?

I do. I’m a part of the Senior Center Singers and I love to ballroom dance with a girlfriend who comes up from Arvada for the Thursday Night dances.

When will we catch your next lecture here?

I try to give a talk the first Wednesday of every month at 1pm. Check the history talks section of the GO and look for my name, Paul Flanders, in the description. Thank you so much, Paul!

Paul Flander's Own It Campaign Poster

  1. Updated: 02/23/2018
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