Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.
Tue, 21 Nov 1995 06:43:10 -0500 (EST)
I was at Miami of Ohio this weekend attending the marvelously exciting Lilly Conference on excellence of teaching in higher education getting sutffed with both food for my tummy and food for thought. I was walking the very cold pre-dawn campus Saturday already electrified by the exciting sessions I had attended, renewal of old friendships, forging of new ones, and the incessant informal conversations with participants in the hallways, on couches, at the tables, on steps, on the floor, and a host of other nooks and crannies.
As I walked the darkened paths, I was struggling with the problem of about how to bring about closure to a workshop I was presenting that afternoon entitled, "It Starts With 'Self'", in which--as I wrote in the program description--I wanted those attending to get insight to the fact that teaching comes from who the teacher is, not what the teacher does; that the barrier to improving teaching is something inside us, rather than those somethings, "out there"; that each of us has to realize that we must start taking a difficult and honest inward look and face our weaknesses and strengths by asking those painful, fundamental questions: "who am I?" "What am I capable of?" "What's holding me back?" "How do I get where I want to go?" And, that each of us must struggle to find the releasing, honest answers to necessary for real change and growth.
Throughout those dark, cold forty minutes I remained unwarmed and unenlightened. I kept drawing blanks. Disappointed, I ended my walk and stopped trying to think. As I was climbing the steps to the Conference Center, had my hand on the entrance door when Shylock's soliloquy in the Merchant of Venice hit me square between the eyes. I don't know why, but I didn't ask any questions. I rushed quickly up to my room and wrote a letter to myself which I read at the end of my workshop. I'd like to share it with you:
Dear Louis--and to whomever it may concern:
You are not a teacher. You certainly are not a Ph.D. You are not even a professor. When you--to paraphrase Matt Dillon--stand naked, you are a person. If you are pricked, do you not bleed? If you are hurt, do you not bruise and feel pain? If you itch, do you not scratch? If you are tickled, do you not giggle? If you catch a cold, do you not sniffle, do not your eyes and nose run, do you not cough and sneeze, do you not feel miserable, are you not a grump? If you suffer loss, does not your heart ache? If you feel threatened, do you not fear? Do you not crack lousy puns? When you sing, do not the multitudes scatter? When you are sad, do you not cry? When you are happy, do you not laugh? Do you not need the approval of others? Do you not fear ridicule and embarassment? When you hunger, does not your stomach rumble? Do you not have physical passions and drives? Do you not ingest, digest, and make waste? Do you not sometimes pollute and not always recycle?
Louis, look inward beyond the fascade of your titles. You are a person. No one will say of you, "Look! Up in the air! It's a bird! It's plane! It's...." And, do not say that of yourself. You will be deluded, frustrated, and angered from false expectations. You are not exempt from life's needs and vissitudes. You need employment to bring home the bacon. You have to buy groceries; you have to pay the mortage on the house or pay the rent or make the payments on the car or fix the kids' teeth. It would be folly if you did not think of your future. You have to be concerned about the security and welfare of both yourself and the members of your family. Face up to it. There are times, you use them as excuses and rationalizations to silence the voice of your conscience and counterbalance your sense of integrity. At times, you use them to legitimatize ignoring or sacrificing others in your interest. You are a person.
Louis, look inward beyond your positions of authority. You are a person. Like any other mortal, you area confusing of feelings, frailities and strengths, likes and dislikes, dreams and nightmares, ups and downs, convictions and hesitations, confidences and reservations, knowledge and ignorance, prejudices and tolerances. You have all the vulnerabilities to which humanity is heir. You can ask for nothing and demand everything. You can be compassionate and heartless. You can cut to the quick and refuse the right of criticism to others. You can scrutinize and reject scrutiny. Be honest, you can be complacent and demanding, resistant to change and an agent of change, involved and aloof, personal and impersonal. Admit it, there are times you rise to the occasion and times you sculk away, times you serve and times you want to be served, times you are selfless and times you are selfish, times when you want to play it safe, times when you want to take the risk and didn't, and times you wanted to set sail amid the perilous shoals and did.
Louis, you don't live within an idyllic ivory tower free of all the pressures that continually flood across life. You are always, like every other person, juggling faith and guarantees, risk and control, safety and danger. Don't be hard on yourself. You're not relieved from human frailities.
Louis, you can't run faster than a speeding bullet no matter how many degrees you have earned. You're a person. There are chinks in your armor and cracks in your ivory tower. You're not a perennial tower of strength; you're not always all smiles; you're not the eternal flame of support and encouragement; you're not always full of vim and vigor; you're not a constant paragon of virtue; you're not a constant source of flowing pearls of wisdom. You don't always go tip-toeing through the tulips delightfully singing "zipity do-dah..." You can get bored or discouraged; you can get lethargic and tired; you can be short-sighted and be able to see beyond horizons; you can be sloppy and neat; you can be prepared some days and say the hell with it on others. It's not a weakeness or cowardice to admit to imperfection. Allow yourself to admit to and show them. It's okay. Mistakes will happen. Expect them. No matter how hard you work, no matter how hard you want to do it, sometimes you will screw-up. Don't put on sack cloth and ashes or flay yourself--or hide. It's human. If you're afraid to fail or won't admit to it, you won't aspire to succeed. Don't deny them. Instead, learn from your screw-ups; build upon them. Like a toddler, from a fall learn how to stand steadier and walk better.
Louis, you cannot leap over tall buildings with a single bound no matter how long is your professional resume. You're a person. It's tough to surf everyone of life's waves that swell and recede. Some will come crashing over you and toss you about. It's tough to endlessly swim against the daily, relentless, and threatening undertow without occasionaly tiring and letting it pull you out and under. You are not a specie set apart from humanity; you do not live in a world segregated from the rest of the world. You are neither a winged or haloed saint to be blessed nor a horned, tailed sinner to be cursed. You're probably some of both. You're a victim of others' folly, a receiver of others' gifts, and a benefactor of your own essence. You're a part of life, a journey rather than a destination, a never-ending story. You're part of having been, of being, and of becoming. You're a unique, sacred individual with yet to be tapped inner strengths, worths, and potential without whom the world would be lesser.
No, Louis, you're not a Ph.D., a teacher, a professor, a professional residing on the mount. You're just an ordinary, magnificant person struggling in the valley. But, you are a person who teaches and explores, and unless you first explore within yourself, you will be a closed system, a fossil encapsulated within the stifling, musty fragments of functionaless functions, unable to assist others on their explorations. You must be courageous enough to force yourself to face your inner, pervading, driving forces. You cannot provide an environment for others that is filled with windows that bring to light the mysteries and insecurities of growth until you lift your own darkening inner window shadees.
Louis, don't forget that it is not merely survival that is the measure of success, but triumph. But, you will only survive if you act from the outside in. You will triumph only if you act from the inside out. You, must then be your own relentless critic, for ultimately you will only listen to yourself. Use yourself to pressure yourself to face the reality that you need to change, to grow improve and develop; to face the need and to accept the responsibiltiy to taking your own action. Let your prayer become an evocation and then a commitment and finally an action.
Louis, always remember that real change and growth is what happens in you, not to you. Let your internal voice call out to you again and again and again, "Face yourself and lead yourself to change and grow and improve and develop. Change yourself and grow. Change yourself and grow. And as you do, you will be able to help others lead themselves to change and grow and improve and develop." Tough chore, but it's being hard that makes it an important and worthwhile task.
Have a good one. --Louis-- Louis Schmier (912-333-5947) email@example.com Department of History /~\ /\ /\ Valdosta State University /^\ / \ / /~ \ /~\__/\ Valdosta, Georgia 31698 / \__/ \/ / /\ /~ \ /\/\-/ /^\___\______\_______/__/_______/^\ -_~ / "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\ _ _ / don't practice on mole hills" -\____