Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Rethinking Perceptions

Monday morning I awoke with a pit in my stomach. I hadn't slept well at all the night before. You see, as a public school teacher I am a part of a union and our contract negotiations haven't been going well. Monday morning began the first day of a strike called by our association Tuesday of last week. I'd never done this before.

Driving to the district school where I was scheduled to picket, all sorts of thoughts ran through my mind. We were told that a group of counter-demonstrators were going to be protesting against us across the street. I envisioned rotten tomatoes flying in our general direction, but when I arrived on location, I found it to be a completely different experience.

Parents of children we taught in school had made us all sorts of snacks to get us through the long day ahead. There was even a group of parents and students who made signs and cheered for us. I can't describe how valued that made me feel! People drove by honking and giving us the thumbs up sign. Occasionally, we received other signs as well. It's interesting to see that when you find yourself in a situation like that how vulnerable you feel. There I was with a sign walking alongside a busy street. I felt like a sitting duck.

As a teacher who is dedicated to his students, I really struggled with the concept of a strike. I thought about what it would do to the parents who now had to make other arrangements for their children. I don't want my students to be out of school. I want to be able to teach them and help them grow into the men and women that they were born to be. But, as I considered the issue before me carefully, I came to the conclusion that I had an opportunity to teach them a powerful lesson indeed, by example. There are times in one's life that require you to stand up for yourself and for what you are worth. This is the lesson that I hope I can teach my students outside the classroom.

The kindnesses and the insults we received that first day were all magnified a hundredfold. Occasionally, people driving past would shout out the window, "Get back to work you lazy @#$@s!" or "greedy teachers!" It was then that I was struck with the realization that they had no idea who we were. The people they had yelled at were my colleagues and friends. These were good, hardworking, professional people, who never deserved to hear insults like that.

It made me think. How many times in my own life had I judged other people and their actions without really taking the time to get to know them, or to hear their story? How often have I said unkind words out of ignorance? Too often. It also made me realize that even the smallest acts of kindness, like a smile or a thumbs up can mean a world of difference to those who are facing challenging and extraordinary circumstances.

It's Thursday, early, early morning and the strike goes on. I'm on a journey, being taught as I go, guided as if by an Unseen Hand.

Here are some photos from the day.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Rethinking Introspection

The Search for Truth
The temptations that adolescents (and everyone else) face can reveal their truest desires. Powerful, honest longings are often concealed deep within their hearts like treasures hidden in darkness. They can tell them about their place and purpose in this world if only they will have the patience to delay their urges to seek immediate gratification. Too often, sincere desires are momentarily placated by temporal things and pushed just below the surface of consciousness. Yet, if you can teach students to resist temptation or at least fight it long enough to ask some tough questions, progress can be made toward uncovering the real person. Some questions that will help encourage introspection include:

• What am I really looking for in this place?
• What do I hope will happen if I do this thing?
• What is missing in my life that I wish were here now?
• What do I fear will happen if I decide not to do this thing?

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Rethinking Resistance

Teaching Resistance
Often when we warn students of the dangers of partaking in certain activities, it goes in one ear and out the other. Even worse, it sometimes adds the element of intrigue, of something forbidden. It is important to discuss the dangers of succumbing to temptation, but we ought to go further. The reasons they are being tempted should be explored. They should be made aware that resisting temptation could reveal critical secrets about the inner landscape of their hearts.

How did Odysseus endure the temptation of the Sirens? He planned his resistance even before the temptation presented itself. He knew his own weaknesses and understood his fallibility. Thus, Odysseus ordered his men to bind him securely to the mast of his ship. Furthermore, he demonstrated wisdom by preparing a secondary line of defense against the allure of the Sirens’ song—he ordered two of his strongest men to guard him lest he break his bonds in passionate fury and throw himself over the side of the ship into the treacherous waters below.

What does being “bound to the mast” mean for our students today? The Greek king ordered himself bound to the mast to head off temptation before it could wield its power. Temptation is much easier to defeat prior to the exertion of its magnetic pull. How can adolescents in our day and age bind themselves to the masts of their ships?
Resisting temptation may mean making a commitment to avoid situations where the individual would encounter the thing that tempts them. In this case, it would require a young person to take a personal inventory and acknowledge their areas of weakness when it comes to temptation. Perhaps a young person can recognize that he has a propensity to sell out his true friends when the opportunity to “hang” with the popular crowd presents itself.
In this case, he must identify the settings in which he feels tempted to betray his real friendships in order to acquire popularity and make a commitment to stay away from them. Maybe there is a student who finds herself tempted to drink or take drugs. If this typically happens whenever she is at an unsupervised party, she will most likely need to make a resolution to stay away from the party scene. Finally, if an adolescent finds himself lured into sexual activity, it is undoubtedly due to a combination of factors, such as being alone with his significant other and possibly spending time around others that brag about various exploits. Such a student would do well to distance himself from these things, thus muting the song of the Sirens.
The Old Testament records the story of Joseph and Potipher’s wife. When Joseph was working as a servant at Potipher’s house, the wife of his Egyptian master attempted to seduce him. Instead of trying to summon the strength to resist her advances, Joseph simply fled the predicament, hence avoiding a problematic situation before the temptation became too strong. Further, Joseph protected his personal integrity, his character, and ultimately his heart. As adult leaders, we must understand that this is easier said than done for the students we work with, but it is really the only effective strategy for countering temptation.
Strength in Numbers
Odysseus didn’t try to overcome the lure of the Sirens on his own. Rather he called upon two of the strongest members of his crew to help him stay in control. Students too will need to rely on others who can help them stay away from situations in which they are tempted to do something destructive. Have the adolescents in your sphere of influence identify two or more friends that can be trusted to help them avoid admitted areas of weakness or to encourage them to stand up under it.
The book of Proverbs declares that a “cord of three strands is not easily broken.” Legend has it that prior to his conquests, Genghis Khan’s mother asked him to break an arrow in half with his hands. He did so with great ease. She then handed him three arrows and asked him to do the same. Unable to snap the three arrows, Genghis Khan understood the meaning of his mother’s exercise. There is strength in numbers!

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