Sailing off the edge and or thinking out of a box

Bird Droppings January 11, 2022

Sailing off the edge and or thinking out of a box

I was thinking back nearly seventeen years when history was made as a new president was sworn in and as one of my students came into class and asked to start working on his assignments. I did not beg and plead he started on his own. As he pulled a three-ring binder and several folders from his backpack, I sat with my mouth wide open who was this person. I have known him for a year, and never has he been that “student.” It is incredible what a simple change in self-esteem and self-worth can do. On that Thursday, we studied for a vocabulary test using an LCD projector, and when he left the room, he knew the words. Last Friday morning, he had a one hundred percent grade on his vocabulary test. It was a first in his educational career. What a change came over him. As I listened to our new president’s first speech that night, I thought back to my student. Each of us can make a difference, often in a small way that magnifies and grows.

“I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. Each of us must learn to work not just for oneself, one’s own family, or nation, but for the benefit of all humankind. Universal responsibility is the key to human survival. It is the best foundation for world peace.” the Dalai Lama, From “The Pocket Zen Reader,”

I have found teachers can be limited in their scope of reality. You would think that as a group, teachers would be more open to ideas, to new thoughts, to climbing out of the box. I read the abovementioned passage in a daily offering I receive; I immediately thought of teaching. As a teacher, most think only within the confines of their room. I was in a somewhat different atmosphere in a resource room, which I taught for ten years. I can recall I did claim god-like power within my room. Something that has been hard to accomplish is improving behavior outside of my room. Whoa, what a concept? Try and get kids to behave for other teachers. In reality, it is simply expanding kids thinking beyond the moment or trying to. With this one student, I mentioned all it took was a nudge.

“Suppose that we are wise enough to learn and know and yet not wise enough to control our learning and knowledge so that we use it to destroy ourselves? Even if that is so, knowledge remains better than ignorance. It is better to know even if the knowledge endures only for the moment that comes before destruction than to gain eternal life at the price of a dull and swinish lack of comprehension of a universe that swirls unseen before us in all its wonder. That was the choice of Achilles, and it is mine, too.”  Isaac Asimov

I read this statement so many years ago, and I responded one way. A friend sent me this quote, we have an ongoing dialogue, and this was a response to something I wrote and not a counter thought but additional support. Wisdom is not as elusive as one might expect. But I do not think in wisdom one would destroy one’s self. Knowledge or knowing how to do something does not impart wisdom.

A radical extremist can know how to build a nuclear device and detonate it, and is that wisdom? Car bombers, are they wise? Dying in retaliation and any war, is that wise? Wisdom is not controlling knowledge, and maybe I do not know what wisdom is. So, wisdom is part knowledge and an additional aspect of concern and caring that provides the framework for the knowledge to be structured within. Yet wisdom is not truly controlled.

Achilles knew his limitations and did battle. Someone else found his weakness, and he was defeated. As I look deeper into the statement by Asimov, however, there is a willingness to know at any cost, and perhaps that is really what is being said. Given the choice of not knowing or knowing and in so knowing all will be destroyed still Asimov would choose to learn.

I recall we celebrate Columbus Day; we are celebrating a man who at one-point sort of discovered America. As he was heading in this direction after leaving Spain as the weeks passed, his desire to know came under fire as his crew feared they would be sailing off the edge of the world and great sea serpents and such devour them. He took a chance and discovered new earth; sometimes, it is not destruction but illumination that waits.

“True wisdom lies in gathering the precious things out of each day as it goes by.” E. S. Bouton

“Raphael paints wisdom; Handel sings it, Phidias carves it, Shakespeare writes it, Wren builds it, Columbus sails it, Luther preaches it, Washington arms it, Watt mechanizes it.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Seeing the pieces and picking through knowing which to save and which to toss aside is that wisdom. As I sit thinking this morning, I wonder what choices will I make as I work with kids.

“Wisdom is not wisdom when it is derived from books alone.” Horace

“In talking to children, the old Lakota would place a hand to the ground and explain: ‘We sit in the lap of our mother. From here, we, and all other living things, come. We soon shall pass, but the place where we now rest will last forever.’ So we too learned to sit or lie on the ground and become conscious of the life around us in its multitudinous forms.” Chief Luther Standing Bear, Teton Sioux

We see and touch what it is; maybe within there is wisdom. It is not as much knowledge but understanding. An understanding within the constraints of what we know. What a paradox? I read Kent Nerburn’s book Native American Wisdomfilled with quotes and ideas from Native American culture and thought. In a passage from Sitting Bull, the great medicine man of the Teton Sioux, he wonders why all things have happened as they have, and from his thoughts and as I read, I wonder—sitting here thinking after the words as well of our new president.

“Is it wrong for me to love my own? Is it wicked for me because my skin is red? Because I am a Sioux? Because I was born where my father lived? Because I would die for my people and my country?” Sitting Bull, Teton Sioux

Sitting Bull received his answer shortly after that as he was arrested for inciting mutiny on the reservation during a period of unrest. According to authorities, a medicine man from another tribe had started a cult, and it was growing in its following, and Sitting Bull was accused of taking part. On his way to jail, as legend has it, his arresters, several Sioux guards, as Sitting Bull gestured to his grandson they thought he was pulling a pistol and shot him several times. Sitting Bull had foretold his death several days before being taken by Sioux’s hands.

“Wisdom comes in dreams” Wovoka, Paiute, medicine man

Why even bring up an old Native American’s ideas during a discourse on wisdom? Within the context of our knowledge, we seek understanding within what we know. So often, we fear what we do not know and that which is the opposite of wisdom and try and destroy it. Had we tried to understand when we first came to the Americas, perhaps this day would be somewhat different? What if we had tried to understand instead of forcing our knowledge upon a group of people. Knowledge alone can destroy wisdom. However, maybe the buffer is understanding. Freud and Jung might argue Wavoka’s thoughts, yet they would sit and ponder dreams as therapy. I wonder as I sit, and always my thoughts come back to going into a classroom. I hope this makes sense as I teach some way, and when a student leaves, they look differently at life, maybe wiser, maybe just seeing a new color today instead of all black and white.

“Teachers are people who start things they never see finished and for which they never get thanks until it is too late.”  Max Forman

Yesterday I bumped into a former student from nearly ten years ago, now a father and married. When he left, I would have placed him in that category of ninety-five percent dead, in jail, used car salespeople, or evangelists. A good friend and leading authority on conduct disorders use that to teach kids in high school with conduct disorders. My former student has done some jail time small pieces here and there but finished high school and is working steady and putting his wife through nursing school. So maybe wisdom came to him eventually. Perhaps in that statement is wisdom and understanding, but we may never see the true nature of all we and hopefully, we are continuing to look. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)


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