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I have been thinking a lot about nuances in language as a starting point for connection, as I’ve been reflecting on my role in caring for and mentoring my Year 11 Tutor Group.
Listening to a conversation between the incredible Brené Brown + Marie Forleo, and Brené said something to effect of:
Don’t ask someone who is in suffering to ‘call if they need anything’. They won’t call. It’s an empty sentiment designed to make us, the helper + supporter, feel better. Ask them instead: ‘What does support for you look like right now?’
And my heart did a backflip.
I realised that I had been asking my students to “call if they needed anything”. I had missed the opportunity for connection every time I said that. I needed to change my words, and therefore my intent, as the beginning point for connection.
The sheer power of language is unmistakeable.
I am on a bit of a Brené Brown bender and re-reading her first book, I Thought It Was Just Me. You can really hear her voice develop over the course of her four books, and I am astounded at how her writing, her research, and she herself, have grown so amazingly and astonishingly in clarity and authenticity of voice. There’s an “authentic sass” about her, with total and ballsy humour, which I LOOOOOVE!
For me, this first book is a personal favourite. I’ll read anything Brené Brown writes, including shopping lists on napkins, because it’s all so good. This book is the most “researchy”, but I also find it the most nerve-wrackingly, exquisitely confronting and reassuring to read.
The stories resonate with me as a teacher; personally and for my students. Each time I feel myself “crusting over” from the events of life, reading or listening to her work opens the doors again, and makes me think. Also, when I re-read such powerful work, even after a few months of living + doing me, the words hit me so differently. Sometimes I read paragraphs that I’ve read three or four times before, and they didn’t have weight until now. And other times, there are things that are circled and underlined that I read again and wonder how they cut so deeply and resonated so much. I take comfort that I must have learned some sort of important lesson from these words.
Today, I re-read the opening credits, and they left me breathless. The moment in class which has chartered the course of Brené’s life work:
One day during a staff meeting, the clinical director, who oversees the therapeutic work done with the children, spoke to us about helping the kids make better choices. He said, “I know you want to help these kids, but you must understand this: You cannot shame or belittle people into changing their behaviours.”
He went on to explain that, regardless of our intentions, we can’t force people to make positive changes by putting them down, threatening them with rejection, humiliating them in front of others or belittling them. From the moment the words were spoken, I was absolutely overwhelmed by this idea.”
So am I.
Listening to a conversation between Oprah + Liz Gilbert this morning, and laughed out loud and was so affected by what she said about heading into a new year; the changing of the years from old to know, and how different people celebrate them. And I’d never thought of a new year in the way that she has described it in the interview, but I LOVED it. So many of us see in a new year with too much expectation tinged with regret of the previous one, and put a little too much anxiety and pressure into the first few days, only to relax into something way too ordinary later on.
How inimitably quotable is Liz Gilbert?! And Oprah, I hate to confess it, was a hard-sell to me, but I’ve loved her ever since partaking in Brené Brown’s CourageWorks courses online with her. Wisdom beyond what you see, and I’m so glad to know it.
New Year’s Day is my favourite day of the year, because I feel like it’s such a miracle that you get a brand new one. No matter how MUCH you screwed up, and they give you a BRAND NEW ONE every year!
Every year, they’re like, “Here! We’re just gonna give you this brand NEW one! It’s got no dings in it, no miles on it, it doesn’t smell like cigarette smoke, nothing’s spilled on it – BRAND NEW!”
And I’m always like, “I can’t believe you guys are giving me another one of these! Didn’t you SEE what I did with the last one?!”
I tend to go through each day and love all the tiny little moments in each day and all my special days just happen, regardless of the date or occasion. So New Year’s Day might just end up being “The Really Great Day At The Beach” that started later than usual with a lot of loud cheering, rather than the momentous and overloaded start of a new year. And the start of something might end up on a totally nondescript day, which I’ll end up treasuring forever. It’s the most resolute of anti-resolutions, and works just beautifully for me!
But Liz Gilbert’s summary?! So much better!
And here’s the interview:
Oh, I love this!
So I am in project “Re-Read All The Great Reads” (as well as reading All The New Reads in parallel, yes this is what happens when I have a brain again!) and this is first cab off the rank, first e-book off the e-shelf, the indomitable and awesome work of Brené Brown: “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead”.
And her work reminds me of everything I want to be as a teacher and person, and all the values + ideas I need to simply MARINATE in before I walk into next year. You know, good moral flavouring.
There are so many examples of beauty and courage around me, every day, every moment. People whose stars burn bright for a moment, or a lifetime. Some stars who dazzle from their very brilliance; others just a glow which resonates softly and simply. These are the people who affect and change the momentum around them, even if they don’t mean to. Usually when they don’t mean to.
When I am stuck, I look to people around me who have faced far bigger challenges, bigger life up-heavals, and take notice. Their courage in their moments of humanity inspire me to keep walking. As Elizabeth Gilbert was quoted, “Don’t hurry, but don’t stop”, and I have been saying that regularly, even through the peacefulness of my holidays. Don’t hurry, don’t stop. Take that extra step, quietly, mindfully.
The people I look to didn’t ask to be different or extraordinary, they simply MET the world with their version of extraordinary when called to do so. People like Captain Chelsea “Sully” Sullenberger, Amy Purdy, and Maya Angelou.
The way that Barack + Michelle Obama held their term with grace and class. Brené Brown’s work, and her own struggle with vulnerability, Sheryl Sandberg’s grief and strength of inspiration, Nelson Mandela, and J.K Rowling. So many people are walking their path, and the light that comes off them warms and inspires me.
Last night, I happened to stumble upon the movie, “Kiss and Cry”, telling their biographical story of Carley Allison, the young Canadian skater who passed away from a rare form of throat cancer while always determined to be present, alive to the world around her, and human.
So step up. How will we affect change? What will I do? I have everything I need to contribute to the world…how will I choose to use my talents, my voice, my ideas, my gifts? How will I love and connect?
That longing and agency to LIVE a good life; when you step into that thought FULLY, like these amazing people have, what an extraordinary gift that is.
I have just finished reading Brené Brown’s new book, “Braving The Wilderness”.
I am amazed and lifted up to find that the “aloneness” that I sometimes feel in my work, even though I love it so much, is valid and real. I had no idea that I would name that realisation through Maya Angelou’s powerful words, “That I belong nowhere, and everywhere.”
I just thought I was left of the middle some days; in my ideas, in the way that I loved students, in the very realness and joy of the words I spoke. There I some days when I teach, I feel like a flower in a full garden. And other days, I may as well be the lone bloom in a desert, for all my differentness, the radicalness of my ideas, and the way I approach my lessons.
What has been the most powerful realisation is that I’m allowed to walk in this solitary independence of thought and ideas, of work and creativity. We all work with some big and challenging personalities who take airtime and room. And yet somehow, the 5-foot nothingness of me stands firm. I often wonder why, with a great deal of disconcerted wonder. And it’s because, somehow, I’ve kept following my compass. What is true and what I understand to be absolutely right in my teaching. The way that I word things might be overly sentimental to some, and binding and harsh to others, but it is exactly what I have learned to be true, authentic and just for me in my teaching right now. My need to celebrate students and acknowledge their light, sadness, anxieties, courage, and very selves, is so different from others who are there purely for the business of teaching. But what IS the business of teaching? It’s CONNECTION AND LOVE. Why be in this profession if you can’t go to those very human places? And be willing to practise connection yourself? Become a teacher, and it’s a lifelong commitment to being a role model, because you are observed far more than you are heard.
And I love that connection + believe that teaching should always begin by being deeply affecting, connective, and personal. Why else would you teach? What is the point of filling an empty vessel if there is no love and meaning?
And then I see with such compassion that those who fear my ability to stand alone are afraid themselves. That they cannot stand alone, because they do not have the courage, or the strength trust in their ideas. That they need to be louder, more overt, more domineering in other ways to override my quiet confidence, my colour, my joy, and my light. It’s annoying and assaulting on the ears to me, but it does not change the course of my heart, or the conviction of what I know is right for me.
I feel it all acutely; standing in my own quiet, solitary joy, in the pure light of my ideas, doesn’t protect me from challenge and discomfort. But I trust that what I do is right. And I also trust that when I come up against failure, I will figure out a solution, because I’m constantly observing and learning. I love this learning. But it is exhausting and asks a lot from me to stay alert and alive.
But that shiver of wonder when I stand alone; that is what I am amazed to find that I am reading about right now. That I am actually “braving the wilderness”, when I thought I was just trying to follow a path that hadn’t been walked, in what felt like blind stupidity. I have always kept walking. But this beating of another hundred hearts doing the same somewhere in the world gives me courage to be that candle in the wind. That it’s not all folly, but becoming the wild and beautiful wilderness.
I am listening to podcast interviews or reading transcripts from extraordinary individuals including Amy Purdy, Elizabeth Gilbert, Brené Brown, Janine Shepherd, Captain Chesley Sullenberger and Martin Luther King. And I am wondering why on earth I am so safe and so happy to be so? I know there’s nothing wrong with this, and that there is so much joy, momentum, and agency in my life. But my default position when I am under attack, or stressed, is to curl up. To go into myself. To protect myself. My goodness, I can have courage, but my FIRST instinct is scarcity. And I hate to admit it because I pride myself on being so courageous, optimistic, and joyful. That I have a steady moral compass. Well, maybe that moral compass needs a shake every now and then.
The thing is, I love my life and all that I have. And I think that the gratitude for the “ordinary simplicity” is what makes my life so joyful; that the small moments don’t go unnoticed. I do not like when it gets so busy and time gets so manic that I can’t treasure things just a little. But when I listen to these stories of courage and inspiration, I realise that I have a voice and a heart and a mind. And I haven’t even begun scratching the surface of what’s possible. Because there haven’t been many times in my life where I’ve needed to be “just above the line survival brave.” I wonder how other people do it; survive war, divorce, death of very precious loved ones, loss, miscarriages, still-births; the sadness and grief that comes with life. In my life, I have been very lucky. I have had struggle, and I don’t want to invite despair, but actually, I’ve had nothing pin me down to the point of revealing absolutely my raw courage. I haven’t needed to…yet.
The amazing things about these individuals is that they never invited any of their struggle, but they don’t make excuses for it. They don’t ask, “What if…?!” or bemoan their lot in life. Can you imagine how far Amy Purdy would have gotten if she had done that? And while I am sure she has horrific days of struggle, she lives. With ballsy, vibrant determination. A brand that I sometimes know and see in my own teaching, and other days seem so far removed from my world. To me, she is courageous and beautiful. To her, she is simply living. Problem-solving to the highest degree, and living. How did Martin Luther King reach that level of peace, clarity, and forgiveness? How did Brené Brown become so alight in work which took her onto centre stage, over and over? To tell the story of her work in a way that they world could use the information? How did Liz Gilbert find such wonderful fluidity to her words, and grace in her life, and somehow the courage to constantly turn the pages of forgiveness and self-love? Janine’s humour and strength brings to me to tears; would I be that lucid and funny if I had that life challenge? I am brought to a stand-still at the end of a long teaching day, or moments I feel like I’ve not been valued and heard, when I find myself in a place where I don’t want to be. And to have my world turned upside down by an event that I didn’t even ask responsibility for, and needed to give my life to undertaking to the highest degree of my skill-level; quietly articulate Captain “Sully” Sullenberger and his family didn’t ask for January 15th 2009. He asked for “an ordinary routine flight”!
Am I going to let my comfortable safety stop me from fully using my voice, a voice that is on loan to me for the time I am here on this earth? And am I going to let small slights stop me from getting into the muddy depths of life, and wading through to forgiveness? Will I cocoon myself up, or will I have the courage to reconnect? I don’t want “safety” to be the reason that I don’t full experience every bit of love, life, and hope possible.