“RESPECTFUL LISTENING”

Haven’t really been interested in sharing lately.  I’ve had another thing on my heart and mind.  These haven’t been the best of times.  But, they sure have been testing times.  I’ve been focused, maybe “distracted” is a good word, or “concerned” is a better word, or maybe “consumed” is the best word, with Susie’s sudden, inexplicable, untreatable, and apparently irreversible blindness that she experienced in her left eye upon awakening one morning four weeks ago while we were on a family care-giving mission in Boston.  Then quickly–and at times frustratingly not so quickly–followed referrals to an opthalmologist, referral to a retina-opthalmologist, referral to a neuro-opthalmologist, referral to a neurosurgeon, blasé secretaries, rigidly disinterested schedulers, inflexible by-the-rules staffers, nurses, PAs, hospitals, triages, emergency rooms, blood tests, CAT scan, spinal tap, arterial biopsy, high doses of bloating steroids, fear, depression, anger, and total uncertainty.  You name it.  The words “urgent,” “immediate,” and “emergency” were often used in a life-threatening context, but so often it was of no matter.  Too many did not listen!  As I said on my Facebook page, I am wondering how urgent an urgency must be for people to act urgently.  So, it was so often a war of battle after battle after battle of self-advocacy to break through battlements of an unbending and unfeeling medical bureaucracy that was so often deaf and blind, so often void of empathy, sadly so absent of a sense of humanity.  Now, to be fair, we did encounter a few listening and loving angels.  Thank goodness for them.  But, they weren’t in the majority.

As you can imagine, “listening,” “attention,” “loving,” and “empathy” have been especially on my mind lately.  Then, yesterday, out of the blue, came a voice from the past, the second one in a week.  ”Hey, doc, I finally found you.  At least, I hope this is you…..in case it is, I just want to say to you that I had figured out the secret madness to your teaching method, what I found to be the most important learning I had taken with me from our class, although I didn’t realize it at the time and until some time later.  That secret was the best gift you could give each of us.  And, once I unlocked your secret, I started using it in my business every day with every person, employees and customers, and with family and friends alike.  You always had said that each of us was a noble, sacred, human being with untapped potential.  Your secret attitude and action toward us was to live your words with what I now call ‘respectful listening.’ You listened to each of us.  You noticed each of us.  I mean by that that you did far more than merely hear our words. I mean you zeroed in on us and blocked out everything else; you intently considered what’s being said by whom; you were intensely interested in what is being said and why it was said; you showed that you sincerely valued the person talking; and, so, you showed that each of us was important and valuable.  You never faked listening; you never was thinking of something else while we talked; you never ignored or dismissed as ‘what do they know’ foolishness what we had to say.  I never saw you roll your eyes or have an empty stare or have a bored gaze or have a blank face.  And, never did a denigrating word come out from your mouth or did a smirk appear on your face. You listened more with your eyes and heart than with your ears.  You were always, always interested in what we had to say and especially why we said what we said.  And, you did this because you gave a damn for each of us. You treated each of us as a human being in whom you believed.  You didn’t just love to teach, you loved people.  And, that is why you loved to teach and reach and lift up.  And, that made it reassuringly safe for each of us, no matter what anyone said.  So, if this is you, thanks for your secret gift.  It, more than anything else in any class, has made me successful over these years both in business and life.”

 

I read that heaven-sent message over and over and over again.  Would the many medical personnel Susie and I encountered in the last few weeks have known and lived that secret.  But, sadly “disrespectful and insincere listening” is too often the way of too many people in every way of life, including academics.   Yet, did you know that the greatest need we each have is to be noticed and heard?  Did you know that greatest teaching tool you have at your disposal is to notice and listen?  Did you know that the greatest form of support and encouragement, of instilling self-confidence, of valuing, of respecting, is attention?  Without listening there can be no empathy or sympathy, no compassion, no respect.  Attention is the most basic form of love.  Love and attention are poetry of the soul.  Attention is an exercise in mindfulness.  And, we can behave this way in everything we do. We can respectfully listen to every person, be intently attentive to every experience, be sensitively alert of all that is around us, and be intensely aware of every moment we live.  Grace has to be more than an expression; it has to be expressed in the way of living.

Louis

Comments

“-FULNESS” V. “-LESSNESS”

I’ve always found that my experiences are formed by the words and ideas I attach to them.  That is, if I name, or attach the meaning of, “fun” to my teaching rather than “work,” it made all the difference between “labor of love” and laboriousness, between happiness and unhappiness, between excitement and drudgery, between a moral call and a job, between mindfulness and mindlessness. Now, before anyone jumps on me, the opposite of “fun” is not “work” or “seriousness.”.  I repeat, it is not “work” or “seriousness.” The opposite of “fun” is “boredom.”  And, I’ve found that the difference is the simple fact that if you love teaching and have fun doing it–or anything for that matter–you love people.  That love is found in he simple act of of intently and actively being aware of and noticing yourself, other people, and things rather than being oblivious to what is going on both inside and outside.  When you actively notice things, you put yourself in both the sensitive and contextual “know” and “now” of people and things and situations.

Understanding that who I am, what I feel, and what I do are the keys to my success–not some technique, technology, strategy, program, information bank–I would go into a classroom each day, or any place for that matter, and notice five new things about the people about me.  Do that and I’ll guarantee that you’ll consciously see how people and situations come alive for you.

Louis

Comments

SELF-AWARENESS

A professor called me today out of the blue to ask how I stay constantly serene.  She was ready to tear her hair out because of “these students.”  People can get bald by all that end-of-the-term stuff. if they allow it.   We talked a while.  I thought I’d share a thumbnail sketch of my side of the conversation.  The first of my five-part answer was, “Thank goodness I don’t have to deal with that uneducational stuff like finals and grades anymore.”  My second part was, “I don’t buy into the recruiting and fundraising PR images of pretty smiling faces of self-motivated mini Ph.D.s walking walking hand-in-hand with totally student oriented faculty on a pristine campus that create false expectations.   See the real individual people in the classroom and on a real campus.”  My third was:  ”I never disrespect a student in thought or action, whether in “I didn’t mean anything by it” or “it’s just fun talk” among colleagues or non-academic friends.  Never.  I have an unshakeable–unshakeable–faith in, belief in, hope for, and love of each student–even if they don’t have it for themselves.  Fourth, I told her, “Remember what Carl Rogers, the psychologist, said.  To paraphrase him,  ’You can’t teach anyone; you can only help him help himself find his unique abilities, talents, and potential.’”

My final part was, “I was not born in Assisi.  A saint I’m not.”  But, I told her that I don’t have unreal expectations.  I know nothing is perfect, not everything will go my way, not everything will work out, and not everything will go right.   I accept that.  I accept that I will screw up; I’m ready for things to go awry.  And, it usually works out.   I told “usually” because I experience emotional downers.  I can get bored, be disappointed, be sad, be frustrated, and be angry.   But, when I do, I usually catch myself quickly and don’t allow those feeling to get me or become me.  Part of the reason is that I have learned to use them to teach me more about the serenity prayer: what I cannot control, what I can control, and to know the difference.

Another reason is to understand that no accomplishment, nothing rewarding, occurs without travail.  What I told this professor was that all the facets of mindfulness–alertness, awareness, attentiveness, otherness–don’t offer superpowers of zeroing in only on joy and serenity.  It’s a step-in/step-back being aware of, noticing, and acknowledging the emotions I am experiencing.

Sounds good, doesn’t it.  Well, I don’t always initially follow my own philosophy.  I didn’t the last semester before my retirement.   When I felt a tad defenseless against a subtle age discrimination sneak attack that made me decide to retire a year and a half ago, I was angry.  I almost lost it for that entire last semester.  I didn’t want to let go; I didn’t want to go quietly into the still night.  I was not a model of peacefulness or calmness; I wasn’t carrying a grateful smile.   To be honest, and Susie will verify this, I was a growling bear.  This sudden, unexpected, unwanted letting go was almost too much for me.  This was one class offered by the school of hard knocks I did not want to attend.

Thank goodness for mindfulness!  I discovered that I was ignoring Rumi’s chiding:  ”Why are you so enchanted by this world, when a mine of gold lies within you?” “Why do you stay in prison when the door is so wide open….?  ”Why should I stay at the bottom of a well, when a strong rope is in my hand?”  Now, I didn’t have some quick fix to walk through that door or climb that rope to make my anger–or fear–dissipate.  What I did have was mindfulness.  I constantly questioned myself, asking what’s going on?  Why am I angry?  At what am I angry?  At whom am I angry?  And so, as I constantly asked all that of myself, I slowly found the door knob and the rope, and the inner gold.

You see, mindfulness is a mood minder; it is also a mood reminder.  It has taught me to ask myself constantly what I need, over what I have control, what I need to leave behind, what I need to look forward to, and what I must do to go on.   Denial only makes uncomfortable feelings unmanageable.  Avoidance leads only to getting lost.  Mindfulness allows me to admit, acknowledge, identify, and deal with my emotions.  It’s like, as Rumi said, when I start walking a path, the path appears.   This allows me to see myself more clearly, and find a path of action rather than mindlessly fling about reacting.

Goodness knows I can’t escape the twist and turns or ups and downs of life anymore than anyone else can.  If nothing else, an unexpected epiphany, cancer, a massive cerebral hemorrhage, and an unwanted retirement have shown me that.  When we can learn to hit those curve balls life throws at us, however,we can see they’re all really ugly ducklings by learning from them, making our lives more graceful, richer, more interesting, more exciting, more meaningful, more wonderful, and more grateful.  If we learn to “fall up” by “falling down,” we see Rumi was right:  ”God turns you from one feeling to another and teaches you by means of opposites, so that you will have two wings to fly — not one.”

Louis

Comments

ODE TO JOY

I was still thinking again about Jane as I got involved in a Linkedin discussion group about teaching.  I could hear echoes of Edgar Allan Poe:  ”Blame, blame, blame.  The tintinnabulation of blame, blame, blame.”  All I can say is that when some academics, far too many academics, say “oh, those students,” they get less a than subtle snarl on their face, or slump in self-pitying resignation, or annoyed grimace without a demonstration of one scintilla of empathy.  Some, say the word “student” with such a cursedness that they should have their mouths washed with soap.

You know, our actions are actions are demonstrations of our values.  We are steeped in our imagination.  We are wrapped in our own mantra.  Every step we take is muscled by our perception.  Every breathe we take fills our lungs with assumption.  Our opinion of students is not a description of any student.  It’s a reflection of ourselves.  It’s a window into our own character, not the students’.. I don’t think pessimistic moaning and groaning changes anything or gets us anywhere except that they sap our strength, commitment, perseverance, and determination.  Too often, the seeds we plant in our perception, assumption, and imagination that spring to life in the day-to-day reality of our classroom experience are choking weeds.  And, thus we so narrow and degrade ourselves with each “ugh.”

Too many profs have a myopic tendency to blame poor performing students on being among the “letting anyone in” or the “don’t belongs” who are diluting academic rigor.  Too many academics, when they see a student in need, their first impulse is to reproach rather than help, to resist, reject or condemn any help as coddling, to attack second chances as watering down, to reject hope as fluffy, to oppose faith as soft, to criticize love as touchy-feely and weak.           Sometimes I wonder if resume, tenure, degrees act as eroding agents on compassion and empathy.  Sometimes I wonder if the length of a resume lengthens the distance between them and students.  Sometimes I wonder if the higher the degree the more blurred their vision from on high.  Sometimes I wonder if the amount of scholarship academics write quickens their inclination to write off students.

What would happen, then, if we choked the choking weeds?  What would happen if we felt a little of life’s goodness in the classroom and let that goodness be magnified throughout our being.  Do you know what would happen if we assumed the best instead of the worse, if we stopped assuming disappointment, gave the classroom a place in our lives?  Well, let me tell you a little secret.   The only things that matters in that classroom is how much you have chosen to matter in a student’s life and that you become more meaningful to both yourself and each student by giving and serving.

And, therein lies the real secret of all those teachers who make a difference.  They offer helping hands rather than pointing fingers.  The name of their game is to be game, not to blame.  They smile rather than sneer.  They regard each student as a possible.  They’re opportunists in the best sense of the word.  They stir up love, not judgment.  They smile, not sneer.  They wrap their love around each student, whatever happens, and make good things happen.  Their imagination is anchored in belief, hope, faith, and love.  They use each moment to express them.  They are a force of goodness, and live that goodness each moment.  They are beautiful in their own way, and that special beauty is a gift to each student.  And, when they say, “Oh, those students,” it is an ode to joy; it is uttered with a warm and embracing smile, not a cold and pushing away grimace.  They wake up each morning with an inner light that is brighter than the light of the day.  They walk enveloped in an aura of joy.  They are out and out optimists.  They’re a source of light.

If we truly want to judge a teacher, judge him or her by his or her hope.  If we truly want to measure a teacher, measure him or her by the size of his or her dream.  To the teacher who dreams and hopes and believe, and acts on them, there is no such person as impossible, untouchable, and hopeless.

You see, most students are touched most by those teachers who dream and hope and believe the most of them.

Louis

Comments

ACCEPTANCE, NOTICE, QUESTION

Back to this student, whom I’ll call Jane, who got me to thinking about “suffering,” “experience” and “reflection.”  Jane said something profound without really knowing it until I told her.  She said, “When I felt you noticed me, you dared me.  You dared me to notice myself and not just accept who I thought I was.  You dared me to ask the questions ‘who does he see,’ ‘who should I see,’ and ‘who am I?  I still do to this day almost everyday to be what you called a ‘human becoming.’  And, dammit your words from Yoda echo within me so deep I can’t get rid of them.  I don’t want to.  It helps me to deal with whatever comes my way.”

She was talking of two quotes of Yoda to Luke that I wrote for brief five minute discussion on the whiteboard as “Words For The Day”:  ”Do or Do not.  There is no try.”  ”Luke:  ’I can’t believe it.’ Yoda:  ’That is why you fail.’”

Acceptance.  Notice.  Question.  This trilogy, in a very intense way, is both the problem of and answer to transformation.  Let’s take acceptance.  Acceptance is a barricade.  It is a kind of sleepwalking zombie-ness. It’s being complacent about yourself.  It’s a conforming acquiescence.  It is a kind of resistance, a sort of fear, an unwillingness to open oneself up to a reality other than the one you have become accustomed.  Sure, acceptance is friendly, feels comfortable, is comforting, is known, is safe and secure.  But, it is also blinding and unthinking and numbing.

Now notice.  Notice stirs the waters.  It throws light on the dark corner.  It is a dare no longer to be apathetic to yourself by being seen and by seeing.  It is a dare to no longer go unnoticed.  It is the dare to see your own beauty, your own sacredness, your own nobility, your own uniqueness.  It is a dare to sense the possibility of change, of learning how to ask the same question to both yourself and others:  ”who does he see?”  ”who are you?”

And, now the question.  Question, particularly “who are you pilgrim,” is a form of awakening from a sleep.  It initiates the naming of your halting fear.  It is the road to belief, faith, hope, and love.  It’s that question, or any question, that shatters stagnation and gets things moving.  It’s the question that raises desire.  It’s the question that is the sound to challenge the silence of acceptance.  It’s the question that shatters security created by acceptance.  It’s the question that creates alertness, awareness, attentiveness.  It’s the question that  throws down the mindful gauntlet to mindlessness.  It’s the question that creates uniqueness.  It’s the question that challenges an acquiescent consensus of acceptance.  It’s the question that arouses a life deadened by acceptance. It’s essence is seeing, thinking, and sharpening.

Without the question, that rising of desire, that self-awareness of how things might become, nothing changes, barriers aren’t broken, and nothing transforms.  As Jane discovered, it converts a static “human being” into a pilgriming “human becoming.”  It unties the halting “not” in your “cannot,” and kicks you in your dynamic “can.”  Those reflective questions Jane is constantly asking, as we all should, are a dawning of self-knowledge, self-development, self-arousal, self-inspiration and self-awareness that breaks through the night of acceptance.  It carries her into new worlds and thereby expands her world.

That is what an education should be all about.

Louis

Comments

ON SEEING

I had a touching and gratifying conversation with a past student that I won’t get into.  All I’ll say is that one of the truest things in teaching, or anything for that matter, is having a serene feeling of joy and fulfillment in your heart that you can’t really put into words.  That inner peacefulness is not arrived at by being detached, uninvolved, or merely doing nothing. On the contrary, it is attained by doing substantive and significant things with a calm selfless service.  It is the belief that you have a huge potential to alter the future, that knowing how doing little things can have huge consequences, that 24 point headlines are the result of the four point details, and that it’s the little things that really make a big difference.   That means doing everything everyday with purpose, love, compassion, patience, passion, empathy, and genuine tolerance. It means doing it with a playfulness, joy, and enthusiasm.   It’s not just a job; it’s a belief system; it’s living your whole life that way.

This student showed me that the most considerate actions are so often the gently shaking ones, that one of the primary things that makes the people begin to transform is the experience of being seen.  Its a very intimate feeling that someone is really seeing you and seeing where you really live. It’s from such sight from which comes empathy.  Without such sight, do you know how many manifestations of  nobility, sacredness, beauty, and loveliness we miss every day?

Understand that there’s a kind of randomness all around us over which we have little if any control.  If nothing else, in our classes we have no control over who is sitting before us.  But our responses to that randomness are not random.  It’s our context.   The course of all aspects of our life depends on how we react to those possibilities, opportunities, challenges, and potentials that the randomness offers to us.  I’ve said it many times.  If you are possessed with an alertness, awareness, attentiveness, and otherness–all those components of mindfulness–you will find that things happen.

I don’t think these feelings and actions, however, are decisions made at a particular moment in response to a particular person in a particular situation.  They are the kind of person who you are, who is raising the unconscious to a conscious level, who has those perspectives, possesses those feelings, make those decisions, and takes those actions.

Louis

Comments

AND SO?

         It’s been quite an emotionally draining week of struggling to come to terms with unexpected and tragic loss.  The heavens were sorrowfully weeping with torrential tears at the funeral with the sudden arrival of an angel in its midst.  It was the heart-wrenching wailings and tears that made me think about a recent David Brook’s oped piece, “What Suffering Does.”  Having had an unwanted but seminal volcanic epiphany in 1991, having survived a bout with cancer in 2004, and somehow “miraculously” having come through an unexpected massive cerebral hemorrhage unscathed in 2007, I know what he is talking about:  there’d be no bravery or courage if everything in life was without challenge and all was hunky-dory anymore than there would be any learning without failing.  But, I wouldn’t use the word “suffering.”  It’s too narrow for me.  I prefer the broader and more inclusive term “experience.” Yet, I don’t think suffering or experience have much intrinsic worth.  I mean, so you’ve gone through stuff; or, as have I, you’ve looked into the abyss.  So what!   What are you going to do with it?  Is it a spur?  And, if so, what are you going to learn from it?  How can you better yourself because of it?

You see, using Brook’s word, while there is a lot of suffering around and in us, there  also can be lot of dealing with, coming to terms with, casting off, overcoming, and getting up and keep moving within us as well.  That is to say, experiences need a catalyst to acquire a meaning.  That ingredient is “And so?” honest reflection.  That honest and deep reflection, that looking at yourself in the mirror,  gives you a shape-shifting option: to see how what you might let bring you down can give you a leg up; how it can morph challenge from barricade into possibility and opportunity; how it can transform mill stones into dream catchers; how it can offer the ability to bring the blessing of gift out from under the weight of curse; how it can offer a power to choose the way you see life; how it can offer you the way you live life; how it can give you a strength to push away adversity; how it can give you a power over frustration and disappointment;  and how it can give you the strength and courage not to succumb to views and demands of others.

But, for too many, looking back is TMI. How many of us really want to hear the past voices of ourselves?  Not many.  I sure didn’t want to on that fateful day in September, 1991.  In fact, I sobbed.  Of course, the truth is that you can’t help it.  As an historian, I can tell you that the silent and unseen, buried, rationalized away, or otherwise past is always present.  More often than not, reflection is a hard, maybe painful, autobiographical interview and confession.  Sure, you’ll hear stories that might surprise you, tighten you up, make you shudder, hurt, hurl pangs of pain, tear your eyes up, induce a shudder, cause a nervous laugh, and/or create a smile.  But, you’ll also may be able eventually, as did I, to empathize and even sympathize, to see possibility, and to seize opportunity.  Each chapter in your story will help explain parts of who you were, are, and maybe will become.  For me, reflection is crucial, for it pulled and still pulls me deeper into myself, beneath the surface of daily routine, to plug into the passion of my soul.  It’s a reverse macro lens that broadens into a wide-angle lens.  Reflection can take a negative cursed experience and give it a positive blessed bent if you ask yourself, “How can I grow and learn from it?” It gives me a living serenity prayer, better knowing what I can and cannot control.

Now, reflection is not something you can be phlegmatic about or bog yourself down in wonky talk about “vision” “priority,” “empowering,”  ”authenticity,”  and “meaning.”  For me, having “down and dirty,” “foot in the real world” reflections on my experiences has given me a holistic serenity with which I have deeply engaged, with which I have become enmeshed, and which has allowed me to live at a place closer to self acceptance and peaceful power.

Louis

Comments

A DANGEROUS GAME, II

Someone asked me as a result of my last RT, just what’s the dangerous game I had a mentioned?  As I just told a few people, my answer was, “It’s a game of fear and anxiety in which you play with your self-esteem, your self-confidence, your self-respect, your self-satisfaction, your individuality, and your independence.”  I should have included “integrity” and “authenticity.”

To my friends of the Jewish faith, Susie and I would like to wish you a wonderful Passover.

Louis

Comments

A DANGEROUS GAME

Here’s another something that flashed across my mind as I was talking with Richard Middle-Kaplan of Harper College:  If you’re afraid of what others will think and say, the solution is simple.  Sit; don’t do a thing; don’t say a thing; don’t chance a thing; don’t be anything.  But, keep this in mind, playing it safe is probably the most dangerous game you can play.  Personally, I’ve found that all satisfaction and fulfillment, all sense of accomplishment, as well as all meaning, comes from daring to begin and having the courage to continue.

Louis

Comments

THEM AND US

I was briefly e-talking with Richard Middle-Kaplan of Harper College.  In the course of our short exchange, a bunch of stuff flashed across my mind.  Here’s the first of them:

If you want students to be serene, confident, fearless, happy, and accomplished, practice love and respect and belief and empathy and hope and compassion and sympathy.  If you want to be serene, confident, happy ,and accomplished, practice love and respect and belief and empathy and hope and compassion and sympathy.

Louis

Comments

« Previous entries Next Page »