Bird Droppings March 6, 2011
Having a heart
“There are four bases of sympathy: charity, kind speech, doing a good turn, and treating all alike.” Buddha, Sayings of the Buddha
Yesterday I worked with students expressing a news article in visual form. Over the past few years as I interact with people observing the various learning styles and how we learn has been an issue I have looked at very seriously. Humans tend to learn basically in one of three ways, visual, auditorially, and or kinesthetically. Simply put we see, hear or touch to learn. Yesterday I through in the idea of perception and how we hear see and touch then is a factor as well.
The assignment entailed using one PowerPoint slide to explain one of the main news articles out of a current newspaper or internet story. The sample I used was based on The Red Lake Shootings from a few years ago. In a few moments about 45 seconds 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 went the route of middles eastern turmoil and one develops their idea based on a local story. One how ever focused only on himself. His visual experience while interesting was a whirl of his own image. For several months going on two years I have known this student and his focus so often is self motivated as so many of us tend to be. But he derives his day from seeking attention to and through himself doing things like passing gas and letting everyone in the class room know it was him. Very often it is speaking out loud to draw attention from a teacher to say disrespect is an understatement, in the end it all is self focused an attempt at saying here I am.
“A relationship or an affinity between people or things in which whatever affects one correspondingly affects the other.” Dictionary.com
How the internet dictionary defines sympathy which is 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 that capability for sympathy. In the defining quote from Buddha sympathy is established as four aspects; charity, kind speech, doing a good turn and treating all alike.
“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 day deeper I found often we tend to view sympathy with caution and perhaps this person is being sympathetic for a reason or for some personal gain. Is it human nature to be so wary or 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, and pity are not enough.” Simone Weil
A day or two ago I sent off a paper dealing with kissing frogs it was a reflection on teaching in a way. But really it was a reflection on life we should be all 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. 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/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 teachers quit. I see Dewey and Foxfire and all this great idealistic thoughts and then they disappear into education lala 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 recall a Harry Chapin song 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 this is 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. With agape being a supreme unlimited love, some will say God’s love. In the Biblical translations of 1600 the Greek agape would translate to charity an active love an ongoing love. Kind speech is an action that requires a physical response. Doing a good turn not just charity but physically doing something again requiring action. Perhaps the most difficult treating all alike again is definitely actively involved.
When I started this morning sympathy was more an emotion. As I think about my title for today, 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 activity engaging. For nearly twelve years now I have ended each Bird Dropping with keep all in harms way in your heart and on your mind. Perhaps it started originally with September 11th and then war in Afghanistan and Iraq. But it has grown in form keeping in your heart which for me 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 form of government had several towns that were voting to not send anymore national guards units from Vermont over seas. Vermont has lost more soldiers per capita than any other state. Action is the key and still others are sending to our soldier’s small reminders of home. For some it may be just a thank you as our GI’s return this is an active involvement. It is kissing frogs having a heart it is voting. So sympathy is action not just thinking about it. Today is a fellow from my home town in Pennsylvania’s birthday. It would not be significant to mention but this man stands on a street corner when time allows from work and family holding signs and proclaiming for peace in the world, a active effort to try and end war one person at a time. So today please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.