Suffer Fools Gladly

I have been told many times that I do not suffer fools gladly.  I have often been called an intellectual snob and a know it all.  Though these have not always been relayed to me in the most positive of lights; I have always worn these monikers as badges of honor.  I mean, what’s wrong with being intelligent?  Why shouldn’t I want to possess a great deal of knowledge?  I will admit that it is not the best to look down upon or judge those that are not endowed (by my narrow definition) with a superior intellect.  I will also readily admit that I am in no way a member of Mensa.  But, I am proud of the mental acumen I have been “blessed” with.

Now, before you write me off as a self-centered pompous douche bag the irony of these thoughts has come into glaring focus this year.  I am working with students that have learning disabilities.  They are by no means “stupid” but they do not process information the same way I do.  (However, full disclosure, I have a learning disability when it comes to math and science; as well as being ADHD growing up.)  I do empathize with these students.  I remember excelling in reading and English classes but being pulled out to the “dummy” math classes.  I had to have special tutors come into the school to teach me math.  My grades were often so poor that guidance councilors tried to bribe me to get better grades.  How then, do you ask, did I grow up to be an intellectual braggart?  I have no idea.  So, you’d think that I’d be better at relating to my students that have difficulty learning.  I however, forget, quite often, how much I have in common with my students this year.  When they do not grasp the content I am teaching quickly enough, I catch myself wondering, “how can you not get this?” “It’s so simple!”  “Why aren’t you smart enough to understand?”  These thoughts are not only irrational, but unfair to these and any students.

I was discussing my concerns with a colleague recently who put it in perspective for me.  I grew up without the benefits of technology.  My knowledge came from books.  Which is exactly where I am asking my students to look.  Students today do not need to look in books any longer.  They look online.  They have technology that gives them ready answers to all of life’s probing questions.  They can manipulate technology to find the answers they need without trudging through book after book after book.  This, to me, is both a benefit and a detriment (but that is for another post another day).  Though I consider myself to be tech savvy, I am no where near the digital native that my students so obviously are. Perhaps I should now judge my own lack of knowledge.  How does that make me feel?  I will be blunt, I hate not feeling I am not one of the smartest people in a room.  Again, I recognize my elitist mentality.  It takes time to change one’s thought patterns.  But, I am working on it.

On the flip side of my intellectual snobbery, what do I expect from 11 year olds?  They are not going to be at the level of Albert Einstein.  They’re barely at the level of Fat Albert.  How can I look down upon someone that hasn’t grown into their intellectual capabilities.  

I judge so harshly those I deem less capable of higher order thinking that I am often blinded to the amazing people they truly are.  My students are slowly teaching me the value of suffering fools gladly.  I now try to ask myself when I have these judgmental thoughts, “who are you to define their intelligence?”  I am no where near where I need to be to stop criticizing those I have harshly labeled, “not on my intellectual level.”  But, I am slowly improving.  My Buddhist studies have shown me that intelligence, like life, is fleeting. Nothing is permanent.  If I cling to my intelligence I will suffer.  For when my memory fails, I am driven crazy.  I have to find a way to release my desire to always “know everything.” As I slowly learn to cease this desire I can only hope that those around me can suffer this fool gladly.


The Value of Pushing Ourselves

Often we are afraid to move out of our comfort zones.  We fall into a rut and find comfort there.  I have gone through many days, weeks, months, and even years in the trance I was lulled into by eating at the same places (still guilty – I love you Chipotle), traveling the same route to work, and setting up my schedule so I follow the same routine every day.  There is some value in routine.  As a middle school teacher I have learned that routine is what most children need.  For the lower income students that I teach routine can be the only form of comfort they have.  However, as adults we easily lock ourselves into “comfort” and allow life to pass us by.

I began thinking of this blog post last week when I decided to step up my yoga game.  My friend and I typically attend the beginners yoga class on Monday and Wednesday nights.  I have aspirations of becoming a yoga instructor for children some day.  So, I posed the idea of attending the earlier class that is more advanced.  I’ve been practicing yoga for almost two years now, I was ready for this next step.  Boy, did that moment of confidence get blown right out of the water.  It was one of the most difficult yoga classes I have experienced.  Within fifteen minutes my heart was pounding to the point I thought it would explode.  I stopped often, dropped to the pose of the child, and I would put my hand over my heart to ensure it didn’t burst out of my chest.  I couldn’t believe how difficult it was.

Now, yoga teaches the practitioner to listen to their body and not push it beyond its limits.  This is true.  A good yogi knows when the body needs a break.  At the same time no benefit would come if we did not push ourselves beyond our comfort limits.  I would not have lost forty pounds if I gave up when it got tough.  Pushing myself is one of the many things I’ve loved about practicing yoga.

Pushing ourselves is evident in the fitness and health industry.  There is a great Gatorade commercial (though I am a Seminole, I give credit where due) in which many physical activities are undertaken with a coach, player, or supporter continually yelling, “one more!”  This is the perfect commercial to show the success that can be gained by pushing yourself physically.  If you go to the gym but never work yourself into a sweat and achieve muscle exhaustion you won’t experience the benefits.  When dieting if you don’t push yourself out of your comfort zone of overeating the “unhealthy” foods you cannot lose weight.  When looking for recognition or a promotion at work, we have to step out of our comfort zones to improve our performance.  To experience life we have to step out of our comfort zones to travel beyond our city, our town, our neighborhood, or our four walls.   To live a fulfilling life, we must push ourselves beyond our routine contentment.

It is no different with spirituality.  I grew up Roman Catholic.  I wore my Catholicism like a badge for many years.  Even today if you asked me what my religion was my knee jerk reaction would be, “I’m Catholic.”  I have often found comfort in the rituals and traditions of the the Catholic faith (most especially the rosary, which I still carry with me to this day).  But, I was an unfulfilled Catholic.  I didn’t find a connection with what was being preached each week from the altar.  I couldn’t understand why I was considered a bad Catholic if I didn’t believe that Mary remained a virgin her entire life.  And I certainly couldn’t fathom why I was going to hell based on the gender of the person I chose to love, especially since Jesus’s primary teaching was love.  But, I found comfort in “being Catholic” and couldn’t find my way out.

During my time in college I became a religion minor.  I loved learning about all different religions, the major, the minor, and the ones considered “out there” by many.  I slowly began to cherry pick my beliefs.  This worked for me for a long time.  It wasn’t long before I no longer considered myself Catholic or even Christian.  I actually took the opposite view and began seeing Christianity as a hate filled religion that tolerates nothing outside of it’s narrow thoughts.  I would study and dabble in the new spirituality I was learning.  And when the question was ever asked, “what religion are you?” I’d take a deep breath, screw up my courage and proudly say, “I’m Catholic.”

I can happily say I’ve pushed myself beyond my narrow and biased view that ALL of Christianity is evil.  There are zealots that give it a bad name, just as there are in every religion.  I have known and still know many amazing Christians.  But, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and can now admit my true beliefs (and this blog has helped me in that).

Now when asked, “what religion are you?”  I can proudly answer, “I’m a Buddhist, sort of!”  I find much joy in Buddhism, but I still love cherry picking in my belief system.  So you see, there is a great deal of value to be found in pushing ourselves.  Step out of your comfort zone.  “Feel the fear and do it anyway.”  This is the only way you can have a life truly lived.


Our Own Worst Enemy

Growing up I always wanted to be a performer. This led me to become a musical theatre major at Catawba College and later at FSU, where I also spent some time as a vocal performance major. I love performing (well singing). But I gave up that dream to pursue the safe route of being a teacher. I began listening to the voices in my head that said I’d never make it to Broadway (my ultimate dream, one I still secretly hold) or make any money performing. When I switched majors and entered the Education department at Florida State I convinced myself that I could still perform.  I even went so far as to tell myself that I could teach drama and still have the best of both worlds.

Fifteen years later I am teaching World History to 11 year olds and the last time I sang in public was for my uncle’s funeral five years ago.  Prior to that was my brother’s wedding. The only places I perform are family functions.  What is key to remember here is that I did this to myself. The person that held me back is me. No one else can be blamed for this, though I have tried.  In the beginning I blamed my mother who planted the seeds of doubt about surviving as an actor.  I blamed college professors that told me that tenors are a dime a dozen in New York and that they’re all working in restaurants as servers. In recent years I have worked several times as a production assistant for a friend that is a casting director for broadway and movies.  This cemented my own doubts to completely shut off any chance to perform. I love working for this particular friend and I love being involved in the casting process. But, I kept telling myself, “I’m not good like these people.” “Broadway requires dancing, you have no rhythm.” I had numerous excuses.
I fully admit that part of my issue is a deep seated laziness that as I approach forty is beginning to finally dissipate.  However, much of my problem has been believing my own negative PR that my inner critic has been spouting to me since I was little. Thanks to myself I fear rejection, I fear being laughed at, I fear the possibility of even minor success.
What I have discovered recently is, I’m not alone in this self sabotage. We are our own worst enemies. Each day I receive a daily dose of Buddhism from, Big Happy Buddha. It is a quote from a guru, or monk, or nun, or even from the Buddha himself. These are great quotes I enjoy pondering.  But what I love most is the tag on all of the e-mails I receive from them, “What you think upon grows.” I have learned that the hard way, as I look back on my life.  The key now, what do I do with this information. How do I convert this lesson to improve my “life unlived”?
Don’t get me wrong, I have made amazing friends, I have loved, I have a fulfilling personal life. I am also finding fulfillment in my life as a teacher, and now as a writer. Dreams do change. But they should not change as a result of doubt. They should not shift because of fear. We often think that we cannot pursue dreams we find unobtainable. We convince ourselves of their impossibility. In high school my favorite teacher often quoted Robert Browning, “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, else what’s a heaven for?” Our hopes and dreams should exceed our capabilities. We must work for the attainment of our happiness. Laziness, doubt, and fear are the enemies of our dreams. Fight each day against them. Rally the forces of your own determination. Fight the good fight. Live the good life chasing your dreams. As Joseph Campbell often said, and I have often quoted here, “Follow your bliss.”