Someone asked me why I bother with my “Schmier’s words for the day” since it has nothing to do with course content. My initial answer was simple, “I believe it has it has everything to do with content; learning, and learning how to use, and to what end to use the content. I say that if you want students to achieve, as Maslow and a bunch of others said and still say, we should choose to pay attention to and work with students on their attitudes. That’s what EI and SI are all about. A student’s attitude affects all aspects of her or his attitude towards learning and their learning no less than it does ours. Both positive and negative attitudes are catalysts for a whole series of feelings, thoughts, and actions on both sides of the podium. And, we should not only pay a lot of empathetic attention to students’ attitudes and emotions, but help them learn how to use them in way that is in their interest. We should help them see that they can live, as do we, by one word: choice. We should choose to help them see that they are not helpless, that they each can choose to be up just as they can choose to be down, that they can cast off or be burdened by distracting and paralyzing weights. The choice, no matter what the situation, no matter the difficulty to make it, is always up to them–and us.”
In that vein, let me continue with my batch of “one thing for students to learn.” This one is such a “biggie” that its going to be a long one. So, I’ll break it up in a series of reflections. Here goes. Usually, on the fourth day of class, while we’re engaging in the “serious fun,” “stress reducing,” connecting community building exercises of “getting to know ya” and “how it works,” I write on the whiteboard a crucial “Schmier’s words for the day” which deal with the one overpowering, heart-stopping, hesitating, paralyzing, acid-producing, nerve-wracking, stomach-upsetting, tearful, muscle-tightening, fearful, eroding emotion on our campuses: ”No one and nothing can stress you without your permission.”
Don’t think debilitating stress is pervasive and rampant? Look around. So many people are a mass of stressful tension, thinking that “I’ll be happy, when….” Yet, because of the way most experience education and the way education is presented, there’s always the Siren, the goddess of the “rat race,” with another beckoning “when”: assignments, tests, grades, GPAs, honors, finances, personal stuff; tenure, promotion, research, publication, grants, recognitions, awards, personal stuff. Almost everyone is frantically and fearfully, and usually unhappily, scurrying around physically or mentally, and/or emotionally, like Alice’s out of breath, stressed-out, hustling white rabbit.
Think of how many people surrender themselves to blaming “so and so made me do it,” or disenfranchise themselves with “such and such is stressing me,” or enslave themselves with “I have no choice, but to….” They feel so alone. They feel so stuck. They feel so powerless. They feel so lost. Yet, they’re not alone. And, they’re not impotent. If nothing else, they are there with themselves. And, there’s an untapped power within themselves. The truth is that they themselves are the source of inhibiting and crippling anxiety, and they themselves are the source of inner peacefulness. The truth is that they are their own tuning fork. These have the power to do right by their day.
In the course of our conversations, I tell the students something like “Let me tell you something about stress and happiness that I’ve learned from my epiphany in 1991, my cancer in 2004, and my cerebral hemorrhage three years later: every moment is a choice, and all those choices add up to what kind of day you’re going to have, and they, in turn, add up to what of life–and whose life–you’re going to live.” We usually talk about how choices will either suck the air out of us or let the air out of all the pressures we feel.
So, in the course of our brief conversation I let students know that I truly believe that an important part of getting an education is learning the meaning of the serenity prayer: ”Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” We talk about how stress is the result of not knowing how to accept and live that prayerful difference.
“When you do, as I did, and am still doing,” I say to them, “you’ll understand why it’s not called the “serenity prayer” for nothing. It teaches those willing to learn how to be active on the outside, but calm on the inside. Sure, let the outside stuff inspire you, motivate you, educate you. Let it push you, but don’t let that stuff push you over the cliff. Let it drive you, but don’t let it drive you nuts. Let the outer you be engaged and involved; at the same time let the inner you put everything in its proper place.”
They hear me say, “You know, You can’t proclaim a thunderous ‘wow’ when your inner voice is whispering an ‘ugh’ and expect anything other throwing yourself off balance. What do you expect when your tongue and lips form a ‘yes’ and your gut says a ‘no.’ It’s like they’re at war with each other and that’ll leave you with a spiritual acid reflux. And, then, you’ll only get an emotional ulcer, and maybe a physical one as well. I learned that to be active on the outside while being fully at peace inside is the most powerful way to live and the best way to achieve anything. Your strength to face whatever is thrown at each of us only comes from both your will and won’t power. Let’s work on it.”
For a start, I told them, “No grades.” More later.