“In teaching you cannot see the fruit of a day’s work. It is invisible, and remains so, maybe for twenty years.” — Jacques Barzun
I don’t know why I keep writing about this subject. Nobody is going to read it anyway. But my heart told me that I should. Given the circumstance, it is a very meritorious thing to do. I also believe understanding and improving the world are both inherently worthwhile even if nobody will listen.
An 11-year-old learner and I were reading Paulo Coelho’s amazing book “The Alchemist” together. The message: follow your heart. That expression may sound like a cliché to some, but, if you’ve found whatever it is you’ve been looking for, you should know that this expression is genuinely true.
Talking about trusting in one’s heart, this 11-year-old asked, “How am I suppose to listen to what my heart says?”
“It’s not that simple,” I said. “You have to teach yourself to listen to your inner voice. Children are highly conditioned these days to capture their external surroundings. You listen to what your parents say. You believe in what your teachers teach. You follow what your friends do. These different conditionings all contribute to the evaporation of your inner voice whispering to you.”
“So if my heart says I don’t want to do my homework, then what?” she asked curiously.
“Okay, this is where your school teachers would say ‘you are not here to think, you are here to get good grades and finish your homework,’ but I’m not your school teacher, so I’m not going to say that. I will say though, that as long as you are still under this roof, you need to do what your parents say,” I responded.
She frowned a little and said, “But once I’m an adult I could do whatever I want.”
“Cool!” I said. “It won’t be easy because you need to be out of your parents’ payroll. That means you need to make a living on your own.”
“You should teach my parents about this topic,” she countered.
“You know, there is no point,” I answered, feeling a bit irritated. “Do parents want their children to be taught about the understanding of life and its immense problems, how to navigate them, and out of that comes vast possibilities?”
“I don’t know,” she shrugged.
“Generally, parents want their children to have some kind of degree so that they can get a good job, settle down, and start a family. Children also feel a certain responsibility toward their parents, so they more or less - especially in China - conform. Students also want to get a good job, they don’t want to become cashiers or food deliverers. Thus, their main objective in school is to get a good degree. Then there is the pressure of society - which everybody has created,” I continued.
“When people have been accustomed to a particular culture or tradition, it becomes naturally difficult for them to change. Sometimes the life that we’re born in is not the life that we want. Perhaps, in twenty years or so, you’ll remember what I’ve said and an unknown force begins to guide you to listen to your inner voice. This is where choice comes into play. If you decide to follow your fate, then your life will never be fulfilled. On the other hand, if you decide to follow your heart, then you might discover something extraordinary.” That was my conclusion to an 11-year-old friend.
To survive and flourish in a world full of uncertainty such as today, you will need a lot of mental flexibility and great reserves of emotional balance. You will have to countlessly let go of your best experiences, and be able to dance with the unknown. Unfortunately, parents and teachers themselves usually lack the mental flexibility, for they themselves are the product of the old tradition and educational system. So if parents and teachers can’t do it, what’s left to teach?
Teaching kids to embrace the unknown and to keep their mental balance is far more difficult than teaching them a math equation or the causes of a tsunami. You cannot learn resilience by reading a book or listening to a lecture. You have to, as the Nike slogan insists, “Just DO it.” It is the only way to learn.