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Archive for May, 2021

Lucy: ‘I’m getting so I don’t trust anybody.’  Linus: ‘Don’t you even trust me?’  Lucy: ‘I trust you as far as I can throw that blanket.’  Linus tosses the security blanket he always holds tight.  Linus [talking to Charlie Brown]: ‘My sister trusts me eight feet.’ – From the comic strip Peanuts

I began to think about Trust, Optimism & Pessimism more than fifty years ago.  I continue to think about these three characteristics and strengths (by-the-by, Gentle Reader, a characteristic or a strength does not have to be positive or a virtue).  I have decided to gather some of what has emerged for me during my searching and seeking these past many years and share it with you (I am not sure how many ‘Parts’ I will post but as I put finger to key today I expect it to be more than one).

Many years ago there was a television commercial about Smith Barney and it warned us that [we] ‘are not born with an instinct to trust.  Trust must be earned.’  Performance may be the key to trusting a stockbroker or a banker or a chemist (and others) but performance is not the key to trusting (think: trusting the stranger, for example). 

Consider that our inclinations to place faith in the other(s) is a tap root that is nurtured early in our lives.  The psychologist Erik Erikson noted that ‘the amount of trust derived from earliest infantile experience [depends] on the quality of the parental relationship [the relationship the parents have with one another and the relationship each has with their child]. Parents create a sense of trust in their children.

Now Smith Barney and Erikson are talking about different kinds of trust.  Confidence in your stockbroker is called strategic trust – trust rooted in experience.  Erikson’s faith in others is called generalized trust – this does not easily change (think: if one learns to trust when an infant one ‘generally’ continues to trust and if one develops a mis-trust when an infant one ‘generally’ continues to instinctually mis-trust). 

As we grow we develop our ‘instinct’ to trust or mis-trust.  These are then the tap roots that feed, nurture and sustain our developing as optimists or pessimists.  As we grow, our generalized trust is rooted in an optimistic view of the world; a world view that we initially learn from our parents.  Optimists rooted in generalized trust are not likely to change from trust to mistrust for as they grow and develop they begin to realize that trust must be learned, not earned.  Generally, people who have integrated generalized trust with optimism remain trusting and optimistic over time.  Now there is a double-loop here: optimism is rooted in generalized trust and generalized trust is reinforced by one’s optimistic view of life. 

Our trust significantly depends upon how much our parents trusted others and, in general, how nurturing our home environment was.  Our parents will talk to us about trust and we children will watch how they model trust or mistrust – their behavior will trump their words if their words and behavior are not congruent. 

The powerful tap roots are nurtured in the family and so the tap roots of trust-optimism and mistrust-pessimism are planted, fed, nurtured and sustained early in life.  AND, parental-family influence is hardly the entire story.  Each of us is the gardener of our own garden and each of us is the author of our own life-story.  Our parents-family sowed some seeds and nurtured many early tap roots and they were the editors, if not the authors, of our early life-story.  In the end each of us is entrusted with our own garden and each of us is the author of our own life-story.

In closing today I am recalling Antonio Machado’s haunting, challenging question: What have you done with the garden entrusted to you?

I am eager to see what unfolds in PART II. 

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WHAT DO WE TEACH?

At my core I am a servant.  As a servant I have embraced a number of roles during my adult life.  The first role I embraced was that of a classroom teacher.  Two days ago I began to reflect upon my role as a classroom teacher.  As I reflected I began to recall moments in the classroom when I could hardly hold the joy.  When I and my students discovered new territory and then together explored it.  When a pathway out of the dark forest opened before us – or we cut our own pathway out and we moved into the light of learning together.  At those times teaching and learning were the most rewarding endeavors I knew.

AND, remember, there is always an ‘AND,’ then there were the other moments.  Those moments – or minutes or even, it seemed, hours – where the environment was life-less or pain-filled or chaos-filled.  I felt so power-less, so impotent, so fraudulent, as a teacher, that I experienced myself as a transparent sham.  It seemed that I and my students were from alien planets and that the subject I thought I knew so well I didn’t seem to have even a tiny grasp of.  I thought ‘What a fool I am for thinking that I could be a teacher!’  Teaching had become more difficult for me than reading Chinese (and I could not read Chinese at all). 

The challenges of teaching are fed by three powerful tap roots.  The first two tap roots are well known, the third not-so-much.  The third, I believe, is the most fundamental.  The first tap root is the subject we teach.  Even though we immerse ourselves in our subject there is always more we can – and should – learn.  We become experts and we are at the same time seeking to learn more.  The second tap root is the students we are entrusted with.  They, as we know, are complex (talk about an understatement).  In order for us to see them clearly, to see them as whole human beings and to discern and respond to the ways they learn requires that we infuse both the Wisdom of Solomon and the method of Socrates. 

Now if these were the only two tap roots needed our standard ways of teaching and coping would suffice.  We could keep up by learning and integrating more of our subject matter and more techniques and keep two steps ahead of our students.  We could learn enough to cope with and keep ahead of the development of the student psyche.  But there is a third tap root; the most crucial tap root.  The tap root that answers the question: ‘What do we Teach?’

We Teach WHO We Are!  Teaching, like all human activities, is rooted in who we are – for better or for worse.  When I teach I project who I am onto my students.  Who I am directly influences what and how I teach and directly affects how I perceive and engage each of my students.  Who I am, my character if you will, is revealed as I teach – this revelation is even more transparent when I am feeling high stress, high anxiety, high frustration, and when I am feeling inadequate. 

The Oracle’s counsel is crucial: Know thy self!  Socrates was correct: The unexamined life is not worth living!  Greenleaf upped the ante: To refuse to examine the assumptions one lives by is immoral! 

I continue to hold three essential life questions (actually I hold more than these three): Who am I?  Who am I choosing to become?  Why am I choosing this becoming? 

Gentle Reader, what are three essential life questions that you hold? 

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MY CUP – MY LIFE. . .

The cup holds grief and balm in equal measure, light, darkness.  Who drinks from it must change.  –Mary Sarton

I vividly remember the moment I began to deeply ponder the cup as a symbol of my life.  It was a beautiful day in May, the year was 1998.  I was sitting with my spiritual guide (some call them spiritual directors – but since I do not like being ‘directed’ I replaced ‘Director’ with ‘Guide’).  My guide handed me an empty cup and invited me to look inside and to think about my life – focusing on my spiritual life. 

As I looked into the empty cup and as I gazed deeply into its depths my eyes began to tear up.  I felt an enormous sense of sadness.  What was this all about?  What was the genesis of my sadness?  I began to realize that I, like the cup, was spiritually empty; I was a cup and I was drained.  Talk about experiencing the well of grief. 

Since then I have found the cup to be a powerful teacher and guide for my inner life.  I searched for a cup that I would keep and use during my times of reflection – within a week I found one and I still use it today.  For me, the cup is a wonder-full image for inner growth.  First, and foremost, the cup reminds me of my spiritual thirst – a thirst which is never fully satisfied. 

As I hold my cup I see my life – I see my life’s emptiness and fullness; I see my life’s brokenness and healing; I see my life’s flaws and potentials. 

A cup’s purpose is to hold, to fill up and to empty.  It must be emptied so that it can be filled again.  If left filled the contents become sour or stale or dis-eased.  This filling and emptying is, for me, a symbol of my spiritual life/journey.  A journey of emptying, filling, giving, receiving, accepting and letting go. 

I continue to learn that my cup (my life) holds stale stuff that needs to be discarded.  My cup also holds wonder-full stuff that needs to be shared.  At times I am care-less with my cup and it is chipped and cracked – but not entirely broken.  I, too, am chipped, cracked and flawed – and I, too, am not broken. 

I continue to learn and I am reminded that I am called to share the light-giving contents of my cup with others. 

I am looking at the rim of my cup.  It has no beginning or ending.  My spiritual life has no beginning and no ending – it is, indeed like the never ending circle.  Yet there is a paradox here.  Although my journey is never ending there are times when I will need to empty both the dis-eased liquid and the grace-filled liquid.  I empty the dis-eased liquid in order to heal and I share my grace-filled liquid of love, compassion, empathy and forgiveness so that others may be blessed or healed.  In sharing I am then blessed and healed. 

I have become like a broken vessel. –Psalm 31:12

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COMMUNITY – COMING TOGETHER

There are many motives that bring people together.  Some people come together in order to defend themselves against a common threat.  Some come together to in order to protect certain values.  Others come together because of shared likes or dislikes.  Love as well as hatred can motivate people to come together.

When we come together we can focus upon and emphasize our differences.  More often than not this leads to a destructive downward spiral.  Emphasizing differences leads to misunderstanding and over time leads to folks avoiding other folks which leads some folks to no longer be welcomed and then it is a small step to banishing those folks and this, sadly, leads the favored ones to guilt free make those ‘others’ dead (they are, at minimum, shunned and at maximum killed).

There is, however, an upward spiral that is possible.  When people come together and honor differences and focus on common boundaries folks then seek to understand the others, they reach out and seek to connect with them.  They then not only welcome them, they invite them to come together and over time these folks are integrated into the community and the community evolves. 

When we come together in this second way we are able to discern and accept the unique gifts that each person brings.  We are able to create a safe and sacred place where each person can bring his or her vulnerabilities (their imperfect ‘humanity’).  In embracing their differences while seeking common boundaries people begin to use their gifts and talents to serve one another’s high priority needs.  People embrace their inter-dependence.   The result is what we call ‘community’ (‘community’ means ‘togetherness’). 

In community people learn that their sense of self does not depend upon their differences and that their self-esteem is rooted in love (for self and for the other).  They experience that the sharing of their gifts and talents does not diminish them – it enhances them.  In sharing, gifts are not diminished but are multiplied. 

Each person’s gifts and talents are like small ceramic pieces.  Each piece is a rich color – reds, blues, yellows, etc.  When the pieces come together a wonder-full mosaic is created.  The pieces are held together by the glue of love, forgiveness and healing.  Each person’s uniqueness and each person’s differences are honored and form the little pieces that create the whole.  Each piece is crucial to the whole and even the absence of the smallest piece leaves the whole incomplete. 

There is another gift that this type of community gives its members.  This is the gift of discovery or re-discovery.  The community calls forth and creates space for each person’s hidden talents, gifts and potential abilities to be named, embraced and developed, or developed more fully. 

The community then seeks to connect with, honor, and welcome other communities and the cycle continues only now it is a cycle that involves not only individuals but communities coming together to form larger, more diverse communities.  Sadly, today, the first type of community is still the dominant community.  I am not without hope; I hope and hold an intention that more of us will embrace the second type of community. 

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CONFUCIUS COUNSELS US. . .

Many moons ago when I was in the 8th grade one of our favorite things to do was to make up ‘Confucius’ jokes.  I remember a few of them but sadly I cannot put them in print although I think that 11 and 12 year old males today would find them quite rib-tickling (girls not so much).  This, of course, was long before I knew that there was a Confucius and that he did say things; he gave us counsel.  Well, Gentle Reader, I thought I would share some of Confucius’ Counsel with you this fine sunny morning (sunny where I am anyway).   

CONFUCIUS COUNSELS US:

To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must cultivate our personal life; and to cultivate our personal life, we must first set our hearts right.

It is better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness.

The strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home.

The father who does not teach his son his duties is equally guilty with the son who neglects them.

A man who stands on a hill with his mouth open will wait a long time for roast duck to drop in.

The essence of knowledge is, having it, to apply it; not having it, to confess your ignorance.

To see what is right, and not do it, is want of courage, or of principle.

Learn as though you would never be able to master it; hold it as though you would be in fear of losing it.

The more man meditates upon good thoughts, the better will be his world and the world at large.

Think no vice so small that you may commit it, and no virtue so small that you may over look it.

Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.

Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.

I hear and I forget.  I see and I remember.  I do and I understand.

The superior man is aware of righteousness, the inferior man is aware of advantage.

He who learns but does not think is in great danger; he who thinks but does not learn is lost.

Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.

To be able under all circumstances to practice five things constitutes perfect virtue; these five things are. . .gravity, generosity of soul, sincerity, earnestness and kindness.

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