Disengage

“You seriously think stuff like this should be ignored? I understand that hatred like this will never go extinct, but should it be allowed to go unchecked and unchallenged?”

Screen Shot 2013-06-16 at 8.01.49 AMWe were discussing hatred and discrimination–hateful comments on a discussion board. My friend spends significant time trying to convince hateful people to be less hateful. I commend him. What happens, though, is he just gets mad.

I tell him to stop. It’s not productive. There isn’t one person there who wants to be changed. It’s depressing. It brings him down. What starts as righteous indignation ends in battle fatigue, with residual vestiges of mad–it’s inevitable. I’d be mad, too. Discrimination doesn’t sit well with me.

But I’m a hypocrite–I did the same thing trying to solve the problems of public education. The nature of the beast is that I read a lot of books, blogs, and news material. I was commenting on a reform blog. It was a national blog, a person you all know. Someone that, until that moment, I venerated–a “champion” of reform. Someone who calls it like it is.

I used the word “scholars.” The hyenas descended.

“What, are you teaching, college? Because if you’re not, they’re not scholars.” Guess you don’t give your kids much credit.

“Why would you say that, you pretentious snob?” Because words matter. Read some NLP–basic science. Students tell me they like that I “treat them like real people and give them advanced stuff.” That’s the definition of scholarship. Study. Nothing more. 

“Do you even have a university degree?” A couple and then some. Haven’t even finished paying for them yet because I hacked my corporate salary in half to save the world from ignorance and want.

Last night, I was at a party talking to an alum, an electrician. He’s making a killing. I’m the dumb one here…

“I bet you’re some charter school freak who makes her kids march lock step and teaches to standardized tests all year.” That statement–so riddled with contradictions, I can’t even  process it. 

This went on and on. I answered each angry comment like a champ, hoping to convince people they should see the possibilities in their students. All I really did was get smacked around a lot.

I considered this a rite of passage in being somewhat public. I wasn’t just some teacher locked in a room anymore, I got smacked around by XXX herself!

“Disengage,” said my newish friend James (plug: you can read his latest book here). He used to write about stocks.  I’d rediscovered him writing about the meaning of life. Stocks are nice, but since I really can’t do much with them at this stage of my poverty, thanks be to teaching, I sort of like the meaning of life more–better odds at achieving enlightenment.

“Disengage? These are my people. The people on MY side!” I want to make education perfect. What he said next changed everything. It’s the truth:

“You have no people. You have yourself. They are not on your side. Nobody is on your side but you. All these people–people like that–want to do is hear themselves. They want to argue and spread hate. It’s what they do. It brings them joy. I’m paraphrasing.  “Disengage. Do not participate in those threads. Don’t even read them. Do not answer hateful comments on your blog. Walk away.”

Every once in a while someone says something that permeates the dense outer layer of my skull and changes everything. This was one of those times. Every moment I spend in a silly battle over things I can never hope to change is a moment I am not bringing vision to a student. It’s tough to recognize. I sat down. I prioritized…two piles, “Productive,” and “Not Productive.” I separated people, activities, and obligations into those piles. The “not productive” pile? Gone. Mostly. I focus on a few things–areas where I can make an impact. It feels good. “Productive.”

Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s Hagakure, a 1716 samurai handbook and one of my favorite works, said the following, “Among one’s affairs there should not be more than two or three matters of what one could call great concern.” More than that, “not productive.”

“Not productive.” This advice is the same, whether it comes from a living friend or a dead samurai. They’re both right.

Do I seriously think hate should be unchecked and ignored? Never. I spend a great deal of  time with students. Occasionally, I battle those things. The only thing to do is replace them with something. I choose vision.  The greatest gift I can give students–and myself–is the ability to say “not productive” to negativity, urging them to surround themselves with visionary thinking.

It works. And it surpasses any curriculum I could ever write.

[image: bookofzen.com]

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Sunday Garden Lessons: Be Like Mint. Indestructible.

garden mess I grew up in the 80’s when the entire world watched nuclear disaster movies and made lists of the things that would survive in a post-apocalyptic world. Most people said cockroaches would survive. I know something even more indestructible.

Mint.

Mint can survive anything. You can dig it up. It returns. Light it on fire with a blowtorch. It’s back. Prune it, it grows through the window and says “Whazzzuppp!” by the next morning.

I hate pruning plants. I always feel bad that I’m killing potential flowers or lessening the food supply. Like somehow that bud will lose its chance to survive because I shaped and cut. Maybe that’s true, but mint makes me think differently.

afterFirst, it makes me think of resilience. Survival. Marching forward and making the best of the worst of circumstances. Mint cannot be defeated–it refuses to surrender. It thrives anywhere with any plant. It grows in cracks of sidewalks and peeks up yards away from where it was originally planted. It’s a horticultural Criss Angel.

But after a while, it always chokes things out. Last week, I was clipping it to add to salads and ice tea. This week, it’s crowding out the entire two acres. As someone who wants nothing more than to be able to go out to the yard and pick my entire dinner for the whole season, I sit in glee and think of all the tabouleh salad, iced tea, mint ice cream, and pestos I can make, but truth is, there’s only so much of a good thing that is useful. And so it’s time to pull some out.

Sometimes it’s good to prune. To take out excess. To shape the garden. Even if it means you have to toss some stuff aside.

No different from life, I think. Keeping the relationships that improve us, letting the ones go that served us in another time, and simplifying, cutting out the things that can easily claim our best time and energy.  Learning that less really is more, and that productivity increases when we can see around all the flowers, when our garden takes shape–it becomes more resilient.  When we keep what matters and toss the rest, the rest thrives.

Japanese philosophy says this well.

Hagakure, Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s 1716 work, says “Among one’s affairs there should not be more than two or three matters of what one could call great concern.” Written three years before his death, Hagakure serves as a guide to samurai both in battle and in life. By the time this was written, Yamamoto Tsunetomo was well off the battlefield and into the monastery. Like so many great warriors, he transferred the lessons of the battlefield to the lessons of life. Tactics, science, and philosophy are one in the same, for all intents and purposes. They work universally–anywhere you take the time to notice and apply them.

Japanese philosophy from three hundred years ago is no different from psychology today.  I find it amazing that the lessons Yamamoto Tsunetomo shared several hundred years ago can be found in my plants, and subsequently applie to my life, but if I stop, get rid of all but those important two or three things, and “prune some mint,” it all begins to take shape, leaving the rest of the day to be amazed at the simplicity and drink some mint tea.

 

[image: http://www.jiandaouruguay.org/inicio/index.php/Contacto/Contacto-con-Escuela-de-Disciplinas-Orientales-JianDao.html]