All I could think about this pre-dawn morning were the beginning lyrics from BLUE SKIES: ”We’re having a heat wave, a tropical heat wave….” Ain’t that the truth. I felt I was doing laps in my own pool for three miles. Phelps and Lochte, eat your hearts out. It’s hot, tres hot: 80 degrees, 85% humidity, and the sun hadn’t yet peeked over the trees. Yesterday, the heat factor hit 111 degrees in my back yard! This morning, noon day sun or not, I felt like a mad dog and Englishman for going out on the gray streets. How hot is it? It’s so hot down here we’re roasting marshmallows merely by holding them up in the air.
Talking about hot, the “old fashion” ringer on my IPhone rang yesterday. It was Barbara. She didn’t identify herself, but I recognized her voice. And, this how some of our conversation went. Again, don’t hold me to being a word for word stenographer. Anyway, before I could get out a “hi,” she started off with a venting scream, the heat of which nearly singed my ear, ”Dammit, Schmier, he did it again to me! The f****** son-of-a-bitch! Teachers!! They’re such shits!!!”
“Whoa,” I interrupted, sensing a teaching moment as I gratefully meandered out of the brutal sun and sat down by the “cool” koi pond, ”‘Teachers?’ I’m one of them. You calling me a ‘shit?’”
“No,” she said in a calmer voice, ”You’re a good one.”
“So, I’m a ‘good shit?’” I asked with a slight chuckle to calm her down.
“No, I didn’t mean that. You know that,” she laughed.
“Do I? How do you know what I know or the others who you’ve told this know what you mean? What did you mean if it’s not what you said? And, why didn’t you say what you meant? You lumped me in with ‘they’re.’ You used the wrong pronoun. So, here’s another lesson. You’ve got to be careful both with your words and the words you use when you talk with others. You just stereotyped, generalized, impersonalized, dehumanized all teachers because of one. You just made me into a clone of that professor. You just screwed up your perspective and expectations. So, tell me, how is that different from professors who say ‘Students! They’re so lazy!!’ Or, ‘Students! They don’t belong in college!!!’” Are you one of the ‘they?’”
“No. I didn’t think of it that way….” she meekly said as she quieted down.
“Okay. Let’s learn something from this. You should think of it that way. We do that with athletes, Greeks, faculty, students, staff, men, women, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, blondes, Moslems, Mormons, Jews, everyone. Everyone talks about diversity and then we ‘undiversify’ people by lumping them into herds of ‘them’ and ‘they.’ Then, you’re no longer ‘Barbara.’ Instead, you’re ‘a student’ or ‘a blonde’ or a ‘woman’ or a ‘just a small town southern girl’ as you once shyly described yourself to me, or whomever. Sure, generalizations are a convenience of conversation–until they’re used as if they’re real. Then, they’re misused and abused, and become abusive. It’s a form of thinking, expressing, and communicating that suppresses the real diversity around us: the unique and one-of-a-kind individual, you. Instead, it throws that individual in particular pools, strips them of their individual identities, and makes them into lock-stepping, robotic clones. Maybe, you’re being the brunt of that professor’s stereotyping of ‘students.’ I mean, how would you like to be put into a herd of ‘blondes?’”
She really quieted down. ”I have, and I didn’t like it, especially the ‘dumb blondes’ and the ‘whoring sorority sisters’ ones. I’ve heard them both.”
“Well? You just did it with ‘teachers.’ See what I mean? In your eyes, am I a Louis, teacher, friend, or a shit?”
“A Louis. And, you’re becoming ‘a friend.’”
“Thank you, but remember that! Then, remember, this: what you imagine is real; the place where you live and where others live in your eyes is your perspective; your perspective is your filter and you’ve got to clean that filter more now then than; the way you see yourself and others has a powerful impact on what you make of yourself; the way you see others has an equally powerful impact on what you make of them. And, you are free to choose to see yourself and others in any way you choose. What you sincerely think of yourself and others influences what you feel, think, and do. It’s the power you have to shape what you believe is real. You become what you believe about yourself, and you treat yourself that way; others become in your eyes what you believe about them, and you treat them that way.”
“So, when you say that you love each of us, that’s how you see us–each and lovingly; and, that’s how you treat us–each and lovingly? Even if sometimes it’s what you call ‘tough, in-your-face love?”
“Yes. I don’t know of any words that are really empty; they’re full of your perceptions; they’re full of your emotions; they’re full of your thoughts; and sometimes they’re just full of it, with the ‘I really didn’t mean anything by it’ when you really did. That’s why it matters and why you have to be careful.
“But he was mean to me and few others, and he hurt me.”
“You’re hearing me, but not listening. So, he was mean. Maybe he didn’t mean to mean; maybe, you just took it that way. Either way, that doesn’t mean other teachers are automatically mean. But, if you think that way, you’ll look for and find meanness. You read my stuff. Notice that I always struggle to qualify what I say with ‘some,’ ‘a few,’ ‘too many,’ ‘not enough,’ or ‘a professor,’ or ‘a colleague,’ or whatever? Nothing is ever total as a stereotype or generalization says it is. So, don’t think or feel or talk that way. It’s a balance.”
“But, you’re making such a big deal out of a few words,” she came back in her defense.
“It is a big deal. Your thoughts aren’t just thoughts; you words aren’t just words. You believe what you tell yourself, and you act on those beliefs. So, you’re like a signal tower who is sending signals out to yourself and others. Your words have the power to make your mood, as well as change your mood and effect the mood of others. Look at that professor, you let his mood determine yours. You just have a mood that is now in a useless form. You will see, listen to, and begin to understand other people only to the extent you allow yourself to see, listen, and understand. So, you’re in control of the words you allow into your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Trust me, right now, you’re draining yourself of happiness. How can that professor ‘hurt’ you without your permission. That professor isn’t hurting you, you are.”
“Well, if you’re right, what should I do? I’m just so sick and tired of walking into class wondering what terrible things he’s going to say about me. I’m just not happy in there and can’t do my best.”
“Sure you can! Stop feeling ‘sick and tired.’ Stop being on edge. Stop being on your guard. Stop feeling that you’re about to be pounced on by some predator as if you’re defenseless prey.”
“I am defenseless. He’s the professor. I’m just a student. He gives me the grade.”
“You’re doing it again. You’re stereotyping.”
“You’re lowering your perspective of yourself. You’re surrendering yourself to others. You’re telling yourself you need others for confidence in yourself, to trust yourself, to believe in yourself, to respect yourself, to survive, to succeed. Last time I looked that’s called ‘slavery.’ You need to look higher and not get yourself down. Otherwise, you’ll let yourself down. Yeah, true, he does give you the grade. No, false, you’re not defenseless. If you want to make the grade, your best defense is feeling relaxed, confident, and happy; it’s believing in yourself, having faith in yourself, having hope for yourself in spite of what others say and do, not because of that they say or do; it’s not being uptight, or diminishing yourself by calling yourself ‘just a student,’ or by being sad. Your defense is in being positive and fearless, not in being negative and fearful. Maybe you’re too young to understand what I am about to say. When you are truly at ease, you get rid of the disruptive static and noise of disturbing feelings and thoughts, of anxiety and worries; and, then, you will be relaxed and have inner peace. When you have that inner peace, and let’s call it self-esteem or self-confidence or self-respect, that peace gives you an inner strength that nothing, not even that professor, can sap. That’s when the boulder in your way shrivels to a pebble you can kick out of the way; that’s when you can kill the fire-breathing dragons. It’s all a matter of choosing how you want to feel, relaxed or uneasy, happy or sad, confident or unsure; and, on whom you’re dependent for that feeling, you or someone else. You know that I never give advice, but I’ll tell you what I doing right now. It’s hot and muggy down here, not to mention the hordes of gnats and mosquitoes swarming around me. I’m sweating but not swearing; I’m not going bugs about the bugs. Instead of saying, ‘I’m sick and tired of pulling weeds and being attacked by gnat and mosquitoes while I’m being fried to a crisp; I’m going inside,’! I say ‘I love growing my flowers; I’m staying out here.’ Sure, I’ll go inside to cool off, drink some water, and get a bowl of cold watermelon when my wife screams at me, but I’ll go outside again. The two points are: first, if I want it bad enough, it can be done; and if it can be done, I’ll find ways to do it. The second point is, the more I want to get something done, the less I call it work; the less I call it work, the less boring it is; the less it bore me, the less grueling it is; the less grueling it is, the more fun it is; the more fun it is, the more I call it love; and, the more I call it love, the more I’ll do whatever it takes to do it. Makes a hell of a difference on my attitude, feelings, thoughts, and actions. You put on make-up this morning, didn’t you?”
“First use a foundation, or whatever they call it nowadays, before you used other stuff?”
“Why did you put it on?” I asked again.
“Oh, here we go again with some craziness. Well, I want to look good. I feel pretty, beautiful, better, refreshed, alive when I do.”
“Good. Now, make your inner emotional foundation a smile. It’ll put a smile on your face. Those muscles around your lips are the most powerful in your body. Remember? I wrote on the board that they can lift the heaviest of hearts to the greatest of heights? Be that way, and you’ll feel emotionally pretty, beautiful, better, refreshed, and alive; you’ll find things to smile about and you’ll see beautiful things; and, you won’t let that professor wipe the smile off your spirit–or your face. I mean, whether I’m angry or annoyed or having fun in my garden doesn’t matter because the weeds are still there; the flowers are still there. But, it’s my choice to choose on which I focus. It’s that simple. Stop focusing on the weeds. Stop focusing on what’s wrong. When you do, happiness heads for the exit and you’ll hurt. And, when you hurt, you’ll be living nightmares instead of dreams; when you’re in a nightmare, you fear and doubt and cower; and, when you fear and doubt and cower, you’re won’t smile; and, when you won’t smile, you won’t be happy. And, when you’re unhappy, you’ll stop yourself in your tracks because pebbles with expand into obstructing boulders. Happiness is a matter of choice. Instead of surrendering and saying, ‘I’m sick and tired,’ be defiant and say, ‘I love.’ I do that every day. You using the ‘positive word for today’ technique I told you about?
“Not really, no. I forget a lot of times.”
“Don’t forget. Do it. Make it a habit. Today, the word that came up for me is ‘delight.’ That’s what I’ve doing: delight in just being alive when I shouldn’t be, delight in my walking and being in shape, delight in my Susie, delight in her steady recovery, delight in cold watermelon, delight in succulent peaches, delight in my koi pond, delight in my flowers, delight, delight, delight. Do you think I’m going to be sour about things, about the heat, about the bugs, about weeds, about anything? Hell, no! I’ve got ‘delight’ not to get ‘de-dark!’ When you called, I could have moaned, ‘Oh, it’s that pest again’ or I could have been delighted it was you. I was my choice. No, I’m making sure that I’m going to find ways to be delighted about things all day today. That’s how I struggle in my life; that’s how I struggle to live in the classroom. Do it. Get in the habit of doing it. Pick your positive ‘word for today.’” Watch what happens to your candle and the darkness!
“I’ve got an assignment for you. Rent an old film called EDUCATING RITA. Watch it and think about needing only you to value you, and not to let anyone devalue you, especially you.”
And, we talked a bit more and then I got back to my flowers, along with mad dogs and Englishmen.