Random Thoughts

John Holt calls education “the ugly business of people-shaping”.

***

I’m convinced that it’s essential for one to have the freedom and leisure to mess around with whatever one is interested in or feels a fancy for at that moment. I don’t mean to say that one should not be asked to do anything. But whatever one has to do must be a real demand- a demand from somebody else that one has agreed to take up, or a demand that life throws at you. And having met the demand one must have the right to use one’s time as one wishes. Not only does it keep one in good spirits and enhance your creativity, but I think it is a fundamental right of any human being, of any age- as long as they are not harming somebody else.

***

The third year in teaching feels different. I feel like I have in my mind a richer map of the landscape of living and working in a school, just by having been in different kinds of situations with children, both inside and outside the classroom.

Keeping aside all the entanglements in the business of education given what our society is, I think children benefit from having adults around who are not very rigid in their thinking, who are doing something real that they enjoy, who can listen to children without having an educational motive all the time, and I think I partly fit that profile.

***

I probably can do a decent job here, but I don’t know if this work nourishes me. I do feel that being here has nourished me, whether it is partly due to the work with the children or whether it is completely independent of it but due to the environment, I do not know.

***

What nourishes me? What does this nourishment feel like? Is it more than just feeling good about one’s work? There seems to be a complex understanding of one’s work that you gain by going through a variety of experiences, and trying to make sense of them. I remember reading in “The User Illusion”, that stability is the foundation on which surprises can emerge, something truly creative can emerge. The science of complexity, I feel, gives an interesting way to make sense of our lives.

Stability can become linear and predictable and boring. And we try to make our lives more interesting by discarding stability and seeking out entirely new experiences which increases the possibilities in your life but also increases the disorder.

On the other hand, if one doesn’t stop asking questions and doesn’t start resigning oneself to things as they are just because one sticks with stability, I think the small and insignificant brush strokes which you enjoy making but think are meaningless can together make something interesting and unexpected. But you are not in conscious control of the emergence of complexity. You cannot foresee it.

You can only keep listening to your life and try to sense whether the linearity of stability is becoming boring, and if it is, try to study one’s brush strokes more closely instead of discarding the stability and seeking quick fulfillment in something else.

This is the insight which the science of complexity shows us. How is it different from the message of almost every religion? Probably the essence is the same.

But I find this insight neutral and devoid of any moral obligation or responsibility for working with oneself to reach a more enlightened state. All it says is that if you are bored with the linearity of your life, probably the more intelligent way to address this issue is to look at the little things you do and not yearn for a romantic wholesale change. The former allows complexity and meaning to emerge, while the latter will probably just increase disorder.

I don’t think anybody can understand this as an abstract concept and then try to live it. I see this insight when I try to make sense of the experiences I have already been through. I think everybody goes through a point in life when they feel bored with the linearity and yearn for romantic change. Sometimes they take the plunge, sometimes they persist with their earlier lives. In both cases, I think it is the subsequent investment of oneself in the small and insignificant brush strokes that lets complexity emerge from the linearity of stability.

***

Having been here for over two years now, I see that my brush strokes have allowed the emergence of some complexity and meaning. Probably it would have happened even if I had been working in an IT company or doing research. But taking a jump helped me move away from some of my mental blocks and look at life afresh.

But without having been through different experiences I don’t think I could have seen this. I think it is perfectly normal for any young person to reject and resist such ideas from elders as a simple advice of delaying gratification, coloured with a moral tinge. I think it comes only by being through various experiences and trying to make sense of them, and cannot be passed on through education, by sitting down together and talking. Even though elder people do it only wishing for the good of the youngsters.

It’s probably healthier for younger people to reject such advice and follow their instincts. One may or may not ‘do well’ in life, and nobody outside you can truly judge that. Either way you will be responding to real demands of life and possibly let a real understanding emerge, while accepting such an idea and limiting one’s own experiences can distort such understanding, I think.

9 thoughts on “Random Thoughts

  1. Stability is a very important shared value. Systems thrive only as long as they enshrine this value. The moment they discard this value they start disintegrating. So the world tries to shun agents of instability, whether they are persons or not.

    Don’t equate a bold step with a courting dance with instability. A bold step implies that you have the inner resources to make the jump without causing instability. Your aspiration there is to migrate to a higher level of stability.

    Don’t be so fanatic about building a great wall of China between you and elders. By sticking to such divisions your insights could get distorted.

    Also keep remembering that in a not too distant future you will be joining the league of elders. So to keep the freshness of the ‘young man’ in you keep remembering about the demise of ‘the young man’ every moment.

    1. Also keep remembering that in a not too distant future you will be joining the league of elders. So to keep the freshness of the ‘young man’ in you keep remembering about the demise of ‘the young man’ every moment.

      Balammama, the funny thing is that being a teacher I already feel a part of the ‘league of elders’, and I see this happening throughout education- elders who have seen more of life trying to get children to ‘apply themselves’ and not give in to impulses and so on, thinking that if they don’t learn this now they will face difficulty later in life. Much like the conversation we had in Thrissur, where I could agree with you intellectually, but found every bit of me rebelling against it.

      I’m not building any wall between me and my elders. It’s an existential barrier that exists between me and my students too. It’s not something I’m creating out of my imagination, but something real which will exist as long as children are inferior citizens, who have obligations to do things decided by the elders, while the elders have a different kind of freedom in deciding what to do with their time.

      I shouldn’t carry that any more in relation to my elders, but I think it will take me a long time to grow out of it.

  2. Well, regarding “stability”, its highly subjective and hard to generalize. For example, the man in the video below, to most people, is embarking on extremely “unstable” activity. But for him and many others like him, its a very “stable” activity 🙂

    http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/05/yosemite-climbing/free-solo-video

    While that’s an extreme example of an activity with a high potential to kill :), to take smaller examples – say car driving. We come across so many people every now and then who were once afraid of driving a car equating it with loss of stability. But at some point they just decided to jump into it and in a matter of days figured out that it was not that unstable after all, not even close ! The point is, if something doesn’t have the potential (or low probability) to kill or maim you, then stability is largely a matter of perception. Well again, if someone has no interest in driving a car at all and is content without it, then there’s not even a question of stability, it only comes into picture when someone is interested in driving a car, and is discontent that he/she is not doing so !

    As for advice from elders, I think the key thing is to have a mind that is always receptive to advices / opinions not just from elders but from anyone ! The mind should always take things in sincerely, reason upon those things and then eventually I guess decisions are always individual .. And I think there is really no black and white categorization of decisions as “right” and “wrong”. In any context, whoever touts that “my decision/opinion is the correct one” is just waiting for an experience that will topple those convictions. So I guess the key is knowing that decisions are not laid in stone and can be subject to change !

    I was watching some program on TV and it was interesting .. here are two links for that whenever you have time ..

    http://whatsnext.blogs.cnn.com/2012/06/29/why-teachers-should-put-students-to-work/
    http://www.workshopschool.org/

    Love,
    Gopu.

    1. As for advice from elders, I think the key thing is to have a mind that is always receptive to advices / opinions not just from elders but from anyone ! The mind should always take things in sincerely, reason upon those things and then eventually I guess decisions are always individual

      Gopuetta, we are not such rational beings. I know I can think of this ideal and agree with it intellectually but it is a fact that I do not consider advices or opinions from different people with equal weightage. That’s not how our brain functions, and our decisions are not based completely on reasoning, we take decisions and then rationalize them. And I am not certain that if indeed we functioned like that we would make more intelligent decisions.

      I find it more useful to accept this limitation/reality/ordinariness of our lives and live it than think of an ideal like I should try to be open to everyone and aim to live that. The fact is I am not, and I am that way due to a complex set of circumstances, and I don’t even think of it as a problem.

      1. Indeed .. every human being’s natural tendency is to just block out whatever he/she doesn’t like to hear. In other words, we already make decisions and you prefer to hear only those things that are favourable to our decisions. Whenever people say opinions that are against what we believe in, then that irritates us, drives up our blood pressure etc.. So then we block out those opinions even more in more possible fashions, and that just becomes a cycle. This is quite common in all aspects of life – personal, professional etc..

        This is a very common example from my work place: its quite common that we come up with some design, call for a meeting and there are some set of people who just relentlessly oppose you. Some people react by saying that “I have made up my mind this is what I will do, no matter what you say, I will do this”. Actually a lot of people react like that, that leads to quite a lot of friction. Some people are slightly better, they react by saying that “ok, tell me what your objections are, let me think about it” – but at the same time they have made up their mind that no matter what the analysis says, they will still do what they had planned. That naturally biases their analysis in favour of their decision and their analysis is quite often flawed. Again leads to quite some friction. The best case is the last set of people (few in number) who are not afraid of people saying bad things about their design, they listen to it, note down all oppositions, meticulously research on them really with an open mind, many a times finds that their own design can be bettered a lot because of the feedbacks or purely because the fact that feedbacks forced them to think one more round exposed some flaws! They go back and present the results of their analysis and display how they have been open to accomodating feedbacks. There will still be people who just object for the sake of objecting, again reasoning says that they can be ignored and they are!

        At least in profession, I have clearly seen from experience that the first category of people consistently produce the most buggy horrible designs. The second category is better, and the third really produces beautiful designs. And the people in the third category are really really few in number. So if practicising this philosophy is hard in profession, it can be 100 times harder in personal life :-), but with constant conscious practice its possible I guess ..

        Love,
        Gopu.

      2. I see what you are saying and I agree with you. From my experience I’ve felt that some situations force you to confront your flaws, and it’s unpleasant and you learn something from it. In some other situations, you feel threatened when you make yourself open/vulnerable and it requires tremendous energy/motivation to stick with that process of looking at your own flaws, it doesn’t seem sustainable.

        Once in a while, much more rarely, I’ve also experienced situations where I myself want to learn/do something badly enough, and then I don’t feel threatened and I don’t need to be motivated to make myself vulnerable, probably because I want it badly and the whole organism that is me(and not just the intellect) wants to learn, to see what its own flaws are. I wonder if openness comes with a passion in something, wanting something deeply and in the absence of it ‘trying to be open-minded’ is just unsustainable.

      3. >> I wonder if openness comes with a passion in something, wanting something deeply and in the absence of it ‘trying to be open-minded’ is just unsustainable.

        Exactly ! See, now we are in sync. Again, from what I have seen, there are two reasons why people try to keep this “open analytical mind”. One is as you have rightly identified, pure passion in what they do. The just want to get to the root of something. And indeed thats extremely hard to do consistently, many a times we are just not motivated enough in what we do and hence we don’t want to expose ourselves to that “vulnerability” as you call it.

        The other reason I have seen is purely as a matter of principle. Some people are just so principled that no matter how motivating or de-motivating something is, they will just make it a “principle” to open up all their “vulnerabilities” and thus make sure that they feel more “free” because of that act.

        I guess the latter is the only true way of consistently achieving that goal, and its worthwhile to strive for it at the least. And to give it a “philosophical” twist, that is one of the basic tenets of “karma yoga” !!

        Love,
        Gopu.

        PS: One more video of another crazy guy who makes highly “unstable” activities look “stable” .. Note that this guy died though in one of his attempts, I salute whatever was the length of his life though, truly awesome 🙂

  3. While working on an article for Prabudhakeralam I cam across a stanza in Prashnopanishad (8th Sloka in 3rd Prashna), which translates roughly as follows:

    “In the environment external to a being ‘Prana’ takes the form of Aditya. (The rays of dharma that guides a being emanates from Aditya). Inside, in the earthiness of a being prana takes the form of apana. In the inner sky of a being it takes the form of samana. In the flows of currents within a being it takes the form of vyana.”

    Dwelling only on one’s earthiness and allowing it to override everything else can have bad consequences. Many times you repeat that though you agree at the plane of intellect you are not able to accept the lines of thought projected to you because your instincts rebel against them.

    The reliability of instincts is conditional. When they are not refined, or screwed up as when one has fallen prey to an addiction, you feel the chasm between the plane of the intellect and the plane of the instincts. Then instincts just aggressively assert themselves even when one is unable to reconcile the intellectual objections. When the instincts are refined there is no conflict with the intellect and one is able to counter the streams of sophistry coming from outside without allowing them to foul up one’s intellect. Then one don’t have to say “I agree with you intellectually but am unable to accept them….”

    On a lighter shade, all these have been happening for a number of generations. There is the legendry image of a Karanavar chasing his anantharavan with a stick and the anantharavan shouting at the top of his voice …”Enne thallandammama njan nannavilla.” Obviously some of the nephews did better than the karanavar. That is why the world is still a tolerable place.

    A V G Warrier

  4. A small correction in the quote from Prashnopanishad.

    After the first sentence add…. “It endows it grace on the prana residing in chakshus.”

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