Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Rethinking Manuel

This combination that we have observed in our timeless stories is a key to helping young people today establish a sense of identity. How do we, as adults, become Menelaus, Obi-Wan, Mr. Miyagi, Aslan, or Athena for the students in our lives? It is different in every situation, because every adolescent is unique, but let’s take a look at some examples.

The Story of Manuel

Manuel, a thirteen-year-old student, moved into the school district from Los Angeles halfway through the year. He was somewhat flippant about school rules, and as the year progressed, he found himself in trouble more often than not. Manuel was in and out of detention and eventually was suspended from school for a period of time. His home life was chaotic. His father had walked out on the family when he was very young, and he and his mother had lived with one relative after another over a period of several years. Furthermore, being Latino in a predominately white, suburban school wasn’t easy.

His math teacher, Mr. Alfhild, noticed that Manuel was really struggling in this new environment. As a teacher, what could he do? How could he intervene in a situation that didn’t develop overnight any more than it could be “solved” overnight? It had to start with Manuel. The boy had no idea of his place in the world. Who was he? He was well acquainted with what the disparaging voices of the enemy had been shouting at him most of his life: “You are a troublemaker! You have no home. You can’t be trusted!” But who was he really? Helping Manuel build a positive sense of identity was the key. Mr. Alfhild had to follow the archetype that the great storytellers had been whispering throughout the millennia.

One day they happened to have a few moments to chat—more accurately, Mr. Alfhild, like Athena, arranged for the encounter. When Manuel walked into the math classroom, Mr. Alfhild knew by the look on his face that Manuel thought he had done something wrong. He asked him to sit down. Manuel looked nervous. What happened next was a complete surprise. Mr. Alfhild told Manuel that he had been observing him for quite a while now and had noticed that he possessed many good qualities. Manuel appeared somewhat shocked that Mr. Alfhild had not brought him in to yell at him or confront him about this problem or that. Instead, Mr. Alfhild had asked Manuel to meet so that he could pay him a compliment!

It is so important that we look for the positive things in a young person’s life. If we search for the negative, we are sure to find it. Isn’t that true about your own life as well? This can really be a challenge! We are so conditioned to seek the negative that we can completely overlook the positive in other people. Students especially need to hear us affirm the good in their lives. It is important to look beyond what a young person is right now, at this present moment, and instead see what they could become. The children look up to us and respect what we as adult leaders have to say (despite messages they may convey to the contrary). We carry an authority that comes with our position. Use it wisely!

After reinforcing Manuel’s good qualities and the potential Mr. Alfhild saw in him, he thought about the second piece to the mythical model, bequeathing a gift. What could a teacher give to him? Well, let’s see. Menelaus gave Telemachus a silver bowl, crafted by the gods themselves. No . . . what would Manuel do with a silver bowl? Obi-Wan entrusted Luke with his father’s light saber. Seriously, what would a thirteen-year-old boy do with a Jedi’s weapon? Probably have the time of his life! Mr. Miyagi bequeathed his classic yellow car to Daniel LaRusso. But Manuel was thirteen, not sixteen, and what teacher can just go around giving away cars? No, this had to be something different. What Mr. Alfhild ended up giving Manuel was a job. Manuel would now be Mr. Alfhild’s official office runner. If he had some important memo to send to the office, he would carefully seal it in an envelope and hand it over to Manuel for safe delivery.

To an adult, this duty might have seemed like a chore. However, looking at this new role through the eyes of a middle school student is a completely different experience. What had Mr. Alfhild really given to Manuel? On the surface, a job, but remember that the gift is always a concrete demonstration of something deeper. He was giving him his trust, something no one had offered him before. Mr. Alfhild was expressing with that gift the idea that Manuel was trustworthy. He was good. He was now an “office runner,” someone to be trusted, not just a troublemaker. He had a position and a title. As Manuel began to live up to the gift that was given to him, Mr. Alfhild could tell that there were subtle changes in his demeanor. He became friendlier with other teachers in the building, and because of that, other teachers began treating him in the same manner. We teach people how to treat us, and that’s just what Manuel began to learn. At the end of the year, Mr. Alfhild gave him a certificate as an award for being an excellent office runner. It was well deserved!

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Rethinking Gifts VI

The Greek hero Perseus was sent into exile as a child by his fearful grandfather who was told by an oracle that his grandson would one day bring an end to his rule. He and his mother Danae were locked in a wooden chest and set adrift on the sea until one day they landed on the shores of the island of Seriphos. The young hero grew up on this island with no real idea of his place in the world. He was lost. He doubted himself and his ability to face the serious challenges of life.

One day, the king of the island, Polydectes, demanded tribute from Perseus and his mother, a tribute that neither could afford to pay. Perseus pleaded with the king, saying that he had nothing to offer but his service. The king, seizing the opportunity, assigned to Perseus what seemed to be an impossible task: he wanted the head of the fearsome Gorgon Medusa. The Gorgons were creatures, loathed by gods and men, whose hair was comprised of venomous snakes. They possessed the chilling ability to turn those that gazed upon her hideous faces into stone.

Perseus was faced with a challenge that tested the strength of his resolve. Was he up to the challenge? Imagine the thoughts that might have gone through his mind at the time. “This is too big for me. I will fail if I try. She’ll turn me to stone like all the rest!” That is the critical moment when the goddess Athena entered the story. She too followed the mythical pattern we have described previously. Perseus encountered Athena—or perhaps we should say, Athena arranged for the meeting. She counseled the young Perseus, encouraging him with her words.

Demonstrating her faith in the young hero in a way that was very concrete, Athena gave him her very own shield, a reflective shield that would allow him to see Medusa without gazing directly at her. She further directed him where to acquire the other tools he would need to complete his quest, including a sword, a helmet of invisibility, winged sandals, and a magical bag. The young hero went forth, knowing that a goddess believed that there was something in him that was capable of accomplishing great deeds. He also carried with him the physical representation of Athena’s belief in him, the shield, sword, and other implements necessary to achieve his goal.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, February 23, 2007

Rethinking Gifts V

An old German folktale, “Iron Hans,” tells of a wild man who spirits a young prince away from his palace to the wilderness. There he affirms the young man’s innate strength and courage. Demonstrating his confidence in the youth, the wild man eventually gives him command of a mighty army with which he is able to defend a kingdom from invasion!

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Rethinking Gifts IV

In the 1984 movie The Karate Kid, Mr. Miyagi repairs Daniel LaRusso’s bicycle after a brutal assault on Daniel by a gang of bullies, letting him know that he matters. He then goes on to teach him the dangerous art of karate, letting him know that he trusts him to use it in a way that will not seek to harm others. The final gift he then presents Daniel blows him away! Mr. Miyagi handed him the keys to a beautiful yellow, classic car on his sixteenth birthday. This demonstrates that the older Miyagi has respect for and trusts the younger LaRusso to handle the responsibility wisely. Miyagi quietly but firmly delivers blows to the enemy who would crush his young pupil's heart.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Monday, February 19, 2007

Rethinking Gifts III

Do we see this pattern in other stories—a mentor or authority figure callings out the good, strong, and virtuous qualities of a younger individual, then reinforcing this new identity through a meaningful gift? Absolutely! C. S. Lewis’s beloved book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950) portrays this pattern beautifully. When the four Pevensie children find themselves in the magical realm of Narnia, they are confronted with the deadly reality that this amazing land is suffering under the wintry spell of the White Witch. There is a war brewing between the forces of light and darkness, good and evil.

The two boys and two girls are hunted by the evil servants of the witch, and with the help of the talking woodland creatures flee to meet Aslan, the mighty Lion, King of the Wood. Upon encountering Aslan, the children are filled with awe and terror at his striking majesty. But does this mighty lion pounce upon the frightened children, devouring them in a single gulp? Not at all! Instead he does something rather surprising. He announces their true identities, as the rightful kings and queens of all Narnia.

Further following the pattern we’ve observed in other stories, the great Lion goes on to bestow unique gifts upon each of the children. To Lucy, the younger girl, he gives a magical, healing cordial. This gift affirms a wonderful quality in this young girl, that she is a healer at heart; she has a deep desire to help others in need. Aslan then gifts Susan, the older girl, with a powerful horn that will summon help whenever help is most needed. You see, Susan often struggled with self-image and longed to know that she was worth rescuing, worth fighting for. Finally, to the boys, Peter and Edmund, Aslan gives swords and shields. These are dangerous weapons in the hands of children, and weapons can be used for either great good or great evil. In human history, with weapons the Afghans were liberated from the tyranny of the Taliban, and with weapons the Mongols exacted their terrible toll upon the continent of Asia. The outcome depends upon who wields the weapons. Even though Peter and Edmund felt frightened by the war that was threatening to engulf them, Aslan saw what the boys were on the inside: fierce warriors who would defend the side of good with passion and heart. Knowing that someone who was wise, good, and powerful believed in them made all the difference in the world!

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Rethinking Gifts II

Menelaus bequeathed a royal silver bowl to Telemachus, endorsing the young prince as the rightful heir of Odysseus; likewise, Obi-Wan gave Luke his father’s light saber, the weapon of the Jedi. What else was he giving Luke through the gift of a powerful weapon? What was the unspoken message? Obi-Wan was letting him know that, as the son of a Jedi, Luke had what it takes to wield such an implement. He was also extending his trust. He trusted that Luke would use the weapon for good and not evil. What did Menelaus really give Telemachus? It was nothing less than a potent symbolic declaration that young man was worthy of royal authority. What powerful statements—and this time without words!

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, February 16, 2007

Rethinking Influence

As adult leaders, we sometimes forget the influence we have over the young lives we encounter. Despite outward appearances and words to the contrary, they look to us for answers. A great deal of the angst we see in teens today reflects a frustration toward the world of adults for not providing any guidance or answers for their deep questions. They wonder if they will ever discover who they are and their place in the world. We are in a unique position to be Obi-Wan to those students for whom we have been given responsibility.

What does Obi-Wan do for Luke? Two things: First, in the same way Menelaus affirmed the noble and mighty qualities of Telemachus, Obi-Wan summoned Luke’s heroic heritage. This is important. Because of the relentless assaults of the villain upon their hearts, adolescents tend to be unable to see their own strength. Sometimes it takes the wisdom of another to show it to them. We have the opportunity to look for the good in our students and shine a light on it. As adult leaders, our words are far more powerful than we can imagine. Use this power for good!

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Rethinking the Way Out

Luke Skywalker wants to belong, to be “somebody,” so he asks his uncle for permission to join the Academy, a pilot school run by the Rebel Alliance. He sees this as his “way out.” Are any of the students you know looking for their own way out? Somewhere deep inside, Luke is experiencing the battle between hope and despair. He has no idea who he is and from where he came. Little does he know that his destiny is moving him toward an old desert hermit known as Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Just as Telemachus sought King Menelaus of Sparta, Luke finds Obi-Wan. The aged Obi-Wan discloses Luke’s true heritage: He is the son of a brave and valiant Jedi Knight, Anakin Skywalker! Going even further, Obi-Wan hands Anakin’s light saber over to its rightful heir. Look at this scene through Luke’s eyes. Prior to setting foot into Obi-Wan’s dwelling, he was a moisture-farmer, living with an aunt and uncle who seem to have divorced themselves from any kind of passion. Then in a matter of moments, everything has changed! Now he learns he is the son of a mighty warrior—a warrior who had been killed (later we find this word was used metaphorically) by the sinister Darth Vader. Luke himself was smuggled to the deserts of this remote world in an attempt to hide him from Vader. Luke is now living in a much larger story!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Rethinking Myth & Story II

What can story teach us about this dilemma? Through the recent production of three prequel episodes—The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith—a new generation is discovering the magic and wonder of Star Wars, a movie saga that began in 1977. Let’s take a closer look at that original episode, A New Hope, and mine it for wisdom that might pertain to the matter at hand.

Luke Skywalker, a boy in his late teens, is living with his Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru on a desert planet known as Tatooine. Here Luke has struggled with his life as a farmer, isolated from the action and excitement he so desperately craves. He secretly fears that he will become like his Uncle Owen, a man who has buried his desires and longings for life and adventure under a pile of duty, obligations, and drudgery.

Owen has settled for something less in life. Most students, if you really get a chance to know them, carry this secret fear with them as well. It is the fear that they will become like their parents—reality as seen through the eyes of an adolescent—and settle for a life of crunching numbers and balancing the checkbook.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Monday, February 12, 2007

Rethinking the Enemy IV

Left to their own devices, students often cannot see the good in themselves or in their families. Sometimes there is a tendency to focus on the negative. Students, when challenged, will often declare what they are not, instead of responding with who they are. Isn’t there a little bit of that in all of us? When a daunting challenge comes our way, do we meet it eagerly, with the anticipation of being able to use our gifts and talents to overcome the obstacle? Or do we start to doubt our abilities and say things like, “I don’t have the strength for this” or “I just can’t do it”? This has probably been the norm since you were young. See how the enemy starts its assault early in a person’s life?

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Rethinking Identity

If you don’t have a solid sense of who you are and where you come from, you will be more vulnerable to the pressures of fitting into one particular group or another. Do you know any adults who still have not discovered their place in the world? Do they still fall prey to the pressures of “grown-up” social groups? Do you know any adults who pressure their children to be popular or to participate in a certain activity due to their own insecurities and lack of identity?

Go to a youth sporting event and simply observe the parents in the stands. How many of them are trying to find validation? How many are searching for some sort of idea about who they are through their children’s success, or by refusing to allow them to fail? How many news reports have we heard about parents who start fights in the stands and act in an outrageous manner toward coaches in such situations?

We can help the students in our sphere of influence move beyond the fear of nonconformity and onto the path of discovering what is true and noble about their heritage. If this battle for the self can be faced and overcome in adolescence, then a healthy transition into adulthood can begin.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, February 09, 2007

Rethinking Belonging II

There is nothing inherently wrong with peer groups or cliques. They are common to every middle and high school, typically based on friendships and mutual interests. However, they do have the potential to twist and mold an adolescent into their own image. The coming-of-age movie The Breakfast Club (1985) illustrates this state of affairs in an entertaining yet poignant way. The entire movie takes place in a Saturday detention hall in a suburban Chicago high school. Represented is one member of each social group in the school.

As each student strolls into the detention hall, the air is thick with posturing and posing. The camera pans over the five students, and you can see that each bears the emblems of their social group—buttons, sport shirts, jeans jackets, eye makeup, pocket protectors. Slowly, they are pushed by one another out of their comfort zones and forced to be real about who they really are on the inside. If you can look past the strong language, this film provides a great study on the concept of the formation of identity. Think about this for a moment. You were probably a member of at least one clique during your school years. What often acts as the glue or the bond that keeps these peer groups together? It is fear, plain and simple—the fear of being left out, of being different, of being nobody.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Rethinking Gifts

As a parting gift, King Menelaus presented Telemachus with a precious silver bowl, fashioned by the gods themselves. Menelaus informed the prince that another mighty ruler had given him this gift, and that now it was being passed down to Telemachus. This action by Menelaus was very critical to the formation of Telemachus’s identity. Here was an older and wiser individual handing down a precious gift to a younger one. He entrusted Telemachus with something valuable. The unspoken message was that Telemachus was trustworthy. He was capable of keeping valuable treasures. He mattered.

Telemachus was still unaware as to the whereabouts of his father, and even worse, his mother’s suitors had flatly refused to leave his home. His problems were far from being resolved. But with this inner recognition of his true identity as heir to the throne of Ithaca, a king in his own right, things had begun to change dramatically. The tide was turning—because someone of influence had entered into one of the most important battles of his young life, the battle to realize his place in the world. Someone important believed in him.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Rethinking the Subtle Battle II

This is the point in the story where the villain of our hearts often fires back with lies and distortions that can make us wonder why we ever hoped for anything better in the first place. Like Telemachus, we too have felt the wounds of our hearts begin to throb. The enemy of the prince’s heart began to whisper, “You’ve heard this all before and paid dearly for it! Your father may have had courage, yes, but look where he is now, at the bottom of the sea. The suitors are too many and too strong for you! Don’t be a fool!”

As we’ve said before, at this moment of conflict, between hope and despair, the adolescent has a crucial choice to make. The easy way, of course, is to choose resignation and deny her place in the world. Many, many people have resigned themselves to less, because of the fear of what they are not. Unfortunately, they have bought into the lies and the pain of their past. Telemachus, however, made the more difficult choice. Even though his initial reaction revealed that he had believed lies about himself, he ultimately chose against despair. He decided to embrace his heritage and his role as prince and future king, by clinging to the hope that what strength and nobility belonged to his father was his as well. He voyaged back to Ithaca with a new sense of his heritage and identity.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Monday, February 05, 2007

Rethinking Our Inner Enemies

Here is another great quote from Henri Nouwen:

"How do we befriend our inner enemies lust and anger? By listening to what they are saying. They say, "I have some unfulfilled needs" and "Who really loves me?" Instead of pushing our lust and anger away as unwelcome guests, we can recognize that our anxious, driven hearts need some healing. Our restlessness calls us to look for the true inner rest where lust and anger can be converted into a deeper way of loving.

There is a lot of unruly energy in lust and anger! When that energy can be directed toward loving well, we can transform not only ourselves but even those who might otherwise become the victims of our anger and lust. This takes patience, but it is possible."

We try so hard to discipline and manage our outer lives that we more often than not neglect what is going on in our hearts. Our fears, lust, and anger can lead us to some real truth if we are courageous enough to listen to them rather than acting on them or pushing them down.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Rethinking the Subtle Battle

Upon being granted an audience with Menelaus, Telemachus concealed his true identity as prince of Ithaca, while the king remembered old battles and the fall of Troy. The Spartan monarch revealed the heroism and valor of Odysseus—and what he believed to be the fate of Odysseus, declaring his belief that the clever hero rested at the bottom of Poseidon’s sea. However, Menelaus did not stop there. What he did next proved to be crucial to the heart and soul of the young Telemachus. Menelaus correctly ascertained the identity of this mysterious visitor to his court and acknowledged that he saw a strong resemblance between Telemachus and his father.

The king proclaimed that the son of Odysseus must also be endowed with great courage and wit and possess the favor of the gods. Imagine hearing this from a mighty king! How did Telemachus respond to such encouragement? Initially, he scoffed. He doubted that any of his father’s strengths could have been passed down to someone as “unlucky” as he. Here were the wounds of the heart rising to the surface. The lies that Telemachus had believed about himself were fighting against the things that were true and real. A very, very subtle battle was taking place between hope and despair. “Could it be that I am strong and clever as was my father? Could I possibly have the courage it takes to reclaim my home from the invading suitors?”

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Friday, February 02, 2007

Rethinking the Quest

Telemachus bore a heavy burden. His father was rumored to have been lost at sea following the war at Troy, and men from his own town had invaded his home, demanding the hand of his lonely mother in marriage. This young man was the son of a king—and not just any king, mind you, but the legendary Odysseus. Despite being raised as royalty, daily being hailed as “Prince Telemachus,” this young man felt powerless in the face of the older suitors who had aggressively pushed their way into his home.

Telemachus had never really known Odysseus as a father, because he had left for Troy on the day of Telemachus’s birth. Intellectually, Telemachus understood that he was the son of a king, but his heart had questions. If Homer would have allowed us to look deeper into the soul of Telemachus, what questions we would find lurking there? “What kind of man was my father?” “Am I like him?” “He was a powerful man. Am I?” Are any of your students asking questions like these? The boy searched for answers to these questions by journeying to the city of Sparta to seek out the counsel of Menelaus, a mighty king who had fought alongside Odysseus at Troy.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Rethinking Belonging

As do we all, the students we work with possess a strong urge to belong. When they enter middle school, many adolescents feel lost almost isolated from all that is familiar. For good or ill, most will desperately seek out peer groups from which they can derive a sense of identity. Homer describes such a longing to discover one’s true identity in the person of Odysseus’s son, Telemachus.

Telemachus bore a heavy burden. His father was rumored to have been lost at sea following the war at Troy, and men from his own town had invaded his home, demanding the hand of his lonely mother in marriage. This young man was the son of a king—and not just any king, mind you, but the legendary Odysseus. Despite being raised as royalty, daily being hailed as “Prince Telemachus,” this young man felt powerless in the face of the older suitors who had aggressively pushed their way into his home. He desperately needed to know where he belonged.

Labels: , , , , ,

Academics Blogs - Blog Top Sites