Having a heart

Bird Droppings March 9, 2010
Having a heart

“There are four bases of sympathy: charity, kind speech, doing a good turn, and treating all alike.” Buddha, From the Sayings of the Buddha

Yesterday I worked with students expressing a news article in a visual form be that a drawing, power point, poster or any visual medium they could come up with. Over the past few years as I interact with people I have found the varying learning styles of each to be intriguing. That is learning styles which are how we learn, have been an issue I have looked at very seriously in recent years with graduate studies and with the children I work with who usually are in a non-learning mode.
Humans tend to learn basically in one of three ways visually, auditorally, and or kinesthetically. We see, hear or touch to be more basic. Yesterday as I thought about how in our perceptions of the world how we hear, see, and touch and these impact that perception as well. The news assignment entailed using one PowerPoint slide, or one piece of poster board and or paper to explain one of the main news articles out currently.
The sample I used was based on The Red Lake Shootings of several years ago which I had done a similar project on and had my sample from. In a few moments about 45 seconds later images and a few words flashed over the screen and my interpretation of the news flashed before us. Students then chose stories and interpreted visually what they saw and felt. Ideas varied and stories varied. One went in a direction of an issue close to home teen suicide. Several students focused on ensuing political issues and local news such as the closing of a career center, one went after oil companies still showing major profits, and one how ever focused only on himself.
This student’s visual experience while interesting was a whirl of his own image. I have commented to other teachers, students and parents how so many students have over the years become more self centered, I even throw out hedonistic periodically. For several months going on two years I have known this particular student, his focus so often is self motivated. So many of us are as I think introspectively but he derives his day from seeking attention to and through himself. He will sit passing gas and letting everyone in the class room know very abruptly and loudly. He will speak out loud to draw attention from a teacher, disrespect is an understatement, but it all is self focused, here I am see me. Granted many of my students have emotional issues.

“A relationship or an affinity between people or things in which whatever affects one correspondingly affects the other.” From Dictionary.com

As I looked at the internet to define sympathy it was shown as an interaction between two people or things that is affecting both. As I thought back to my self centered fellow. I wondered as he focused all day on him self does he have any sympathy at all. In the defining quote from Buddha sympathy is established as four aspects, charity, and kind speech, doing a good turn and treating all alike. Each aspect in and of itself is a powerful statement but combined rather thought provoking.

“The force of truth that a statement imparts, then, its prominence among the hordes of recorded observations that I may optionally apply to my own life, depends, in addition to the sense that it is argumentatively defensible, on the sense that someone like me, and someone I like, whose voice is audible and who is at least notionally in the same room with me, does or can possibly hold it to be compellingly true.” Nicholson Baker

There are many issues at hand that warrant attention and sympathy today locally and world wide.

“All sympathy not consistent with acknowledged virtue is but disguised selfishness.” Samuel Taylor Coleridge

“Sympathetic people often don’t communicate well; they back reflected images which hide their own depths.” George Eliot

As I searched this morning deeper I found often we tend to view sympathy with caution perhaps this person is being sympathetic for a reason, and or possibly for gain. Is it human nature to be so wary so distrustful of others?

“Is there anything more dangerous than sympathetic understanding?” Pablo Picasso

“The capacity to give one’s attention to a sufferer is a very rare and difficult thing; it is almost a miracle; it is a miracle. Nearly all those who think they have this capacity do not possess it. Warmth of heart, impulsiveness, pity are not enough.” Simone Weil

A day or two ago I sent off a paper dealing with the gross concept of kissing frogs, a reflection on teaching in a way well a very warped comparison perhaps. But really a reflection on life maybe we all should be frog kissers. Teachers and so often parents are to be the frog kissers: Many times I have used the inference to the fairy tales of child hood of kissing a frog. We are always trying to find that enchanted princess or prince hidden beneath the guise of a frog; one kiss and the prince or princess will appear. With an animated film based in New Orleans about an enchanted frog receiving awards at the Academy Awards presentation perhaps it is appropriate.
Being an avid herpetologist along with my son, kissing frogs can be a risky business. Many species secret toxins some so lethal they can kill a man with barely a touch let alone a passionate kiss. There are some that can induce psychosis and hallucinations when ingested. All these efforts by the amphibians are purely defense mechanisms evolved over millions of years. But the symbolism of the fairy tale and teachers/and or parents is what struck me. Teaching is about kissing frogs. We as teachers need to be taking those risks trying to find the hidden princes and princesses among our students.
In reality we are not kissing these kids but we are going beyond simply taking roll and letting that child slip through the cracks. We need to be risk takers we need to set the example for the students that we will make an effort to be there and give each child ample time and place to be who they are. For many years I have wondered where and why teachers quit. I see john Dewey and the Foxfire program as an example and all these great idealistic thoughts and then they disappear into educational la-la land. What were to be great teachers are now animation’s doing as all those others have done before. Turn to page 138 children and read, now answer the questions at the back of the chapter. Raise your hand when you wish to speak and do not get out of line. I woke up last night thinking about kids I have worked with who will never hold a job or have a difficult time and what if someone would have taken a risk early on back in elementary school.
I recall a Harry Chapin song I used only a few days back playing it in my class room about a little boy who comes in his first day and colors flowers in a rainbow of hues, until his teacher corrects him and flowers are red, green leaves are green, soon the creative spark is gone and another student became a frog. Fortunately in the song a risk taking teacher saves the day and kisses the frog and the rainbow is back. We need to work towards being that which we should be teachers, not simply information stuffers. As a parent and teacher a hard row to follow.

“There are four bases of sympathy: charity, kind speech, doing a good turn, and treating all alike.” Buddha

I keep thinking back to this idea of sympathy it is an active process not simply a feeling. I used loosely the illustration of kissing frogs but each aspect described by Buddha is an action. Charity is an activity although borrowing from a 1600 translation the Greek word agape, is translated as charity. In the Greek, there are three words for love, Eros,
Philos and Agape. It is agape that is about being a supreme unlimited love and for some it is God’s love. In the Biblical translations of 1600 the Greek word agape would translate to charity, an active love an ongoing love. Kind speech is a physical action and often elicits a physical response. Doing a good turn not just charity but physically doing something and perhaps the most difficult is treating all alike again actively involved.
When I started this morning sympathy was more an emotion. Having a heart as I thought was just a sentence structure used to elicit sympathy and or other emotions. But sympathy is an active word it is beyond and there for having a heart perhaps too is active engaging. For nearly ten years now I have ended each Bird Dropping with keep all in harms way in your heart and on your mind, originally I started with September 11th and then the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq it was very simple thought. But it has grown in form keeping in your heart is an action it involves doing not simply mouthing words.
I recall a few years back the state of Vermont which operates on a town meeting format jurisdictionally had several towns that were voting to not send anymore national guards units from Vermont to Iraq. Vermont has lost more soldiers per capita than any other state was the driving force on this issue. That is action. Some folks are sending cards to soldier’s reminders of home. For some it may be just a thank you as GI’s return active involvement and soon we all can be kissing frogs, having a heart and even voting. Sympathy is action not just thinking about it and as always please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

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