Don’t Destroy This

Most of what they make is not that great. Most of what they draw is not that good. Most of the things they collect or acquire is not worth very much.

…to you that is.

Katherine Wright, the sister of the flying Wright brothers, once noted the special attention and respect her mother paid to the things Orville and Wilbur worked on in their house on young boys. “She recognized something unusual in Will and Orv,” Katherine observed. “She would never destroy one thing the boys were trying to make. Any little thing they left around in her way she picked up and put on a shelf in the kitchen.”

This might not seem like much but imagine what a message it sent to those boys, David McCullough explains in his book The Wright Brothers (it’s actually a great parenting book in disguise—​grab it at The Painted Porch​). Long before they were getting paid to work on bikes, long before they were building the first flying machines, their mother saw real value in their projects. Surely some of those ‘projects’ were just collections of rocks and sticks. Surely some of them stank. Or stained. Or took up space. The vast majority of them would not have predicted the greatness and genius that lay in the future.

Yet she didn’t complain about the mess they made. She didn’t minimize what they were working on. She didn’t make a big deal out of either, but she recognized it as worthwhile and she gave them space for it. She didn’t try to professionalize it or make it more than it was—instead she allowed it to become what it was (also freeing them to go in a totally different direction in life had their interests taken them elsewhere).

When we think about how these boys would go on to—out of their own pocket, with no encouragement, and indeed, later in the face of significant doubts—cobble together the world’s first true airplanes, we know where it started. We know who actually did encourage them and how it became possible.

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