“We must be true inside, true to ourselves, before we can know a truth that is outside us” (Thomas Merton).
I am responsible for my actions and my thoughts, and I want to learn much more than I now know. I sense the knowledge inside of me is much more important than the external knowledge I could acquire. No one else can teach me what I need to know. My insight comes from life experiences. I must each myself how to see.
Every year, I teach The Scarlet Letter to my eleventh grade high school students and renew my interest in the Puritans who settled New England. My mother traces her family name (Steele) to Abigail Adams in the United States and to Charles II in England. The Puritan religion plays havoc with her family tree. On my father’s side, Charles Martin was, in fact, the treasurer on board the Mayflower when it docked at Plymouth Rock. We can’t say for certain if he was one of our family, but it is possible.
The Puritan custom of labeling people into two groups was one of their interesting habits. If these people believed in the need to reform the Church of England and tell citizens the “pure” interpretation of the Bible, they were “saints.” If some expressed any doubt in the strict Puritan philosophy, obviously, those people were “sinners.” Life was so black and white, so simple. “Saints” and “Sinners,” that is all there were.
King James I threatened the Puritans when they asked him to change ceremonies, carried into the Anglican Church from the Roman Catholic Church. He said, “I will make them conform, or I will harry them out of the land.” He demanded a simple life, too. Subjects had to follow his way, or else they had to go to jail or leave the country.
These Puritan farmers, merchants, professionals, and scholars, especially from the University of Cambridge, came to be regarded as gloomy fanatics. For example, “They objected to bear baiting, not because of the pain to the bear, but because of the pleasure to the spectators.”
Some teachers try to “harry . . . out of the land” students who feel a need for new ways of thinking about old problems. These teachers feel they are on the front line of ethical values, and to alter their nineteenth century views is the same as succumbing to modernism. Many of their students feel no sense of unity and no sense of inner awareness. These conservative teachers take so much pride in being orthodox, like King James, that they retard many learning processes.
Rush Limbaugh sends his newsletter to interested subscribers for $20/year, but he “charges $10 more to liberals.” Doctrinal instructors put that “$10 more tax” on creative and non-traditional students in the way of stress, pressure, and a “saints or sinners” approach to education.
Opportunities to learn arise when different points of view appear on the scene. The greatest single educational lesson I learned in education revolved around the definition of the word “synthesis.” The main point of view in any discussion is called a thesis. The opposite point of view is the antithesis. Many hard life experiences taught me that seldom is the truth ever in one of these two opposing points of view. Almost always, the truth is somewhere in between the thesis and the antithesis. The truth is in a blending of the two, the synthesis. Once I accepted this lesson of life, I learned what tolerance really meant.
When I learned that my ego determined my thesis or my antithesis and that what I thought I saw was based on my pride in knowing the truth, I understood what Joseph Campbell meant when he talked about the dragons in our world.
Campbell’s discussion of the mythology surrounding the European dragon in literature and religion points out to me how important my ego becomes in determining what I think I see in any situation. European dragons are negative barriers our egos place in front of us to prevent us from achieving our desires and goals. Writer’s block is one dragon I must deal with on a regular basis, and my ego creates it, not anyone else. I learned how to over come my dragon.
This specialist in comparative mythology changed my life forever. He taught me the importance of following my bliss and why I should expect synchronicity in my life. He taught me to look inside myself, to find the life force to which I am connected and trust that my reason for living will become unknown. He showed me why when I do what I am supposed to do with my life, synchronicity will “open 1,000 doors.”
Campbell’s thirty books and forty years of studying cross cultural mythology reinforced what I sensed in y childhood years: most major religions have more in common than they do differences. If we study them far enough and rise spiritually high enough, somewhere beyond this mortal plane, they come together as one. That intersecting point is not located outside ourselves. It is only reached through an inward journey.
When my father was a young man, he was dressed in full combat gear, ready to board a troop ship to cross the English Channel and do his part in Normandy in June 1944. I remember seeing newsreels of General Eisenhower talking to young men, just like my dad, the day before they left for their meeting with “Hell on Earth.”
“Ike” asked one soldier if he had a religion. The smiling paratrooper said, “Yes, sir!” The general said, “Good. Where you are going, you will need one. It does not make any difference what it is. It just matters that you have one.” I wonder if this awareness is not just as true now, as we face our personal “Normandy Invasions” today.
A recent retiree became interested in construction of an addition to a shopping mall. Observing the activity regularly, he was especially impressed by the conscientious operator of a large piece of equipment. The construction worker went beyond what would have normally been required and reached for excellence in all he did. The day finally came when the retiree had a chance to tell the man how much he enjoyed watching his scrupulous work. With an astonished look on his face, the operator replied, “You are not the supervisor?”
Most people need supervisors looking over their shoulders to ensure excellence. Many look at the way we live our lives and draw conclusions about our self-reliance. True students have few supervisors looking over their shoulders. I see good students remaining disciplined because they are courageous enough to become their own supervisors. They don’t need someone else telling them how to study or when to study. Sincere students, teachers, and managers spread their visions of simplicity, synthesis, ands synchronicity to students, peers, and employees.
(c) David Martin
What do you need to ensure personal excellence? Who is your personal supervisor? Why?