The Teacher

She taught Education. She had been asked a reasonable question: what should they do when confronted with a racist student? How should they protect the student under attack? What was the best discipline for the student doing the attacking? She understood their impulse. Her own reaction as a young teacher back in the 90’s was to come down hard. But then she told her students about him.

He was a handsome boy; bright, very engaged. He sat right near the front. It had been a week since he’d been to class. The parents said they would ensure he came, but still no Cameron. She was on her way home when she finally spotted him.

He was sitting at a coffee shop table with a fruit drink, reading a comic book. He didn’t know what to do when she just sat down across from him with her coffee and a big friendly smile on her face. “Hi Cameron!” He froze like a deer in the headlights, caught off guard by her friendly approach. “Don’t worry. You’re not in trouble. I know what the problem is. Everything is going to be fine now. You’re safe.” He was baffled.

“Safe from who?”

“From whoever is bullying you.” His eyes rolled a bit. He seemed less nervous. It was like he was mocking her efforts. “It’s okay Cameron. You’re not weak for needing help. We have to stand up to racism together. Just tell me who the student is and I promise, they’ll be disciplined harshly. I’m pretty sure I already know who it is anyway.”

“Oh yeah? And who’s that?” he finally said.

“It’s Nathan, isn’t it.” He just laughed her off like a fool. “It’s not funny Cameron. This this is a serious issue. If it’s bad enough he’ll be kicked out of school.”

“Well then I guess you’ve already done your job then, haven’t you?” he offered. Now she was confused and he now felt more confident.

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about me. I’ve already left. You don’t need to kick me out.” She stared back at him, truly lost and confused and he knew it. He let her stew while he built up his courage. He loved her as a teacher, but it was time. Finally, he stepped forward to offer his coup de grâce. “I’m the racist Ms. Simms. I’m the bad guy in this story.”

“Cameron I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“At least you got that part right.” She looked at him imploringly. He was a good student. She wanted to be a good teacher. But he almost seemed angered by her compassion. “I’m from South Africa Ms. Simms.” He paused. “I’m white.” She was still lost.

He spun the comic around and pointed to a character. “I’m the villain. I’m the bad guy.” She looked at him confused. “I had dogs back home that were trained to attack black people Ms. Simms. The person you want to kick out of school isn’t Nathan, it’s me.”

It was like someone flipped her world upside down. She started a hundred thoughts and finished none. He was South African. He was white. And South Africa was under sanctions for Apartheid. “But…” all of her preconceptions were smashing into what he’d said, and what she knew. “Cameron how could that be? Just because you lived in South Africa, that doesn’t automatically make you a racist.”

“Yes it does Ms. Simms. It does. Because I was. I was a racist. Do you understand? My friends and I beat black people.” She reacted as though he struck her. She flinched, and it made him feel more confident. “That’s right. I sicked my dogs on black people. They bit them. Badly. And I felt nothing. They were animals. I cared more about my dogs.”

She sat there feeling like someone had punched her in the stomach. She had no way to process what he was saying and he knew it, so he doubled down. “You’re from here, Canada. You talk to black students the same way you talk to white students, and Chinese students, and Native students. You’re a Canadian. You were taught to respect these people. I was taught to have dogs. Dogs that were trained to attack black people. And I was happy to use them.”

“But you’re not that person now…” she was almost begging him to confirm it. She couldn’t reconcile the nice kid she knew and the stories he was telling her.

“When you grow up and everyone around you thinks a certain way, you don’t even notice it. I was in Canada for months before I saw a white person treat a black person with respect. I’d never seen it before in my life. I thought he was crazy, or weak. My father thought he was both.”

“Do you still feel that way? Do you still want to attack black people?” Now he was uncomfortable. He didn’t. Canada had rubbed off on him in a year. He wasn’t friends with any coloured people, but he knew people he liked that were. He was going through his own conflicts. He couldn’t tell her how he felt because he didn’t know either. “How could you believe such a thing?” she asked.

“You thought I was a nice kid, right? You believed that. You took the little bit you knew and you told yourself a story about me and you believed it. So that’s who I was. I was who you thought I was. Well, the same for me. Everyone around me believed black people were animals, so I thought so too. I didn’t even know there was an option until I moved here.”

“But you’re so compassionate Cameron. I’ve seen you be kind. It’s why I like you.”

“It’s just guilt. I’ve done some very bad things.” That seemed to upset him.

“But you didn’t know better.”

“That’s no excuse. You said it yourself.”

She had. She now knew that had been a mistake. It had never occurred to her that she might not be able to recognise the racists. Her judgment felt too easy now, too casual. Now she felt like the bully. “I’ve made a mistake Cameron. I’m sorry. You’re making me realise that now. I’d never thought of the racist as a victim too.”

“A victim of who? We had all of the power.”

“I don’t mean the power. I mean the… awareness. The understanding. You had no way of knowing that you were participating in racism. I see that now. If everyone around you does it, then it’s normal. You’re making me realise now that I grew up in a family that had some pretty harsh ideas about Indians–about Natives–and I’m… maybe I’m not as good a teacher as I thought.”

“You’re fine Ms. Simms. You’re one of the most popular teachers in the school. The problem isn’t you. It’s me.”

Now she was feeling stronger. “No, it isn’t. The problem is that I didn’t have a discussion about racism, I just called one side good and the other side bad and that was it. I didn’t leave you any room. I didn’t leave a space for you and that’s my fault. That’s my failing. I not only let you down as a teacher, I let that whole class down and I see that now. I need your help Cameron.”

“My help…?” He was lost. He was young enough that he thought in absolutes. But she was changing her mind. And it was opening up new possibilities.

“I want you to teach us Cameron.” He seemed shocked. “I mean it. You’re right. I don’t know what I’m talking about. Just like you I’ve never even questioned my biases until now. I’m no better than you and you’re no worse than me. The problem here isn’t you. The problem is a lack of understanding. You can help us with that. Racism is subtle here in Canada. We like to think we have none, and yet I displayed some to you. I was intolerant of you. We have to fix that. This class can be better and it will be better if you explain it to us. We need to know why you had those dogs. We need to find our own versions of those dogs. Will you help me? Will you help us?”

She seemed serious. He liked her. And he liked school. He really wanted to be more comfortable with his black classmates but he had no idea where to start. Maybe this was his chance.

“Please Cameron. I mean it. I really need your help with this.” He looked at her a long time. He wanted so badly to believe he was a good person. He so badly wanted her forgiveness. He wanted all black people’s forgiveness. He started to cry. I mean cry. It started as tears but soon he was sobbing. She went around the table and put her arm around while he sobbed.

After a while someone appeared next to them. It was Robert. He was a sensitive boy. He’d been a refugee from Somalia. He was black. “Are you okay Cameron?” he asked. Cameron looked up and started to cry even harder when he saw who it was. Robert sat down across from him and took his hands his own. “It’s okay.”

Cameron looked at him through his tears. He felt so incredibly bad that he started a new jag of tears. He squeezed Robert’s hands. “Robert will you help me?”

“Of course I will.” He pulled Cameron up, into an embrace. He held him closely as Cameron bawled on his shoulder. People started watching them but they didn’t care. This was the beginning of it getting better.

When she looked up at her university class she was crying. They were too. Even the harshest, toughest boys. She took a moment to gather herself before speaking. “If I teach you anything in this class I’d like it to be this: you will learn more from your students than you can ever hope to teach them. So remember that when you’re at the front of your classes. Remember to never, ever, stop being a student too. Because in all of my years of teaching, no one ever made me a better teacher than Cameron and Robert did. Your job isn’t to police what’s good or bad or right or wrong. Your job is to build understanding. Do that, and you’ll have done the most important kind of teaching there is.”

And with that the bell rang.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

March Kindness Month

882 Relax and Succeed - March Kindness MonthThe nature of the meditations this year meant that I couldn’t start March Kindness Month until today, but that still gives us plenty of time to practice the part of our personality that can make a real difference to us and the people we interact with. So get a friend or your classroom or your school on board and let’s use the rest of this month to make a real difference in the world.

You’ve had it happen–someone gives you a random and unexpected compliment. It sticks with you for days, or even longer. It’s so rare, and yet insults are not. Why would we choose to be angry or disappointed in others when we could feel compassionate and supportive? These are win-win or lose-lose scenarios so the choice should be obvious.

We think we need things to create happiness in our life. More respect, more money, more friends, more education–whatever. But in fact, it is the giving of respect, the contribution of money, behaving like a friend, or or offering to teach someone something are all excellent ways of feeling good. So why are we so bent on the world recognizing our pain instead of noticing and reacting to the opportunities around you?

882 Relax and Succeed - Do something good todayThis isn’t a moon and stars request. These are simple things. Holding doors for people with kids or packages or if they’re older. Offer directions to someone clearly lost. Being patient with someone learning their job, or your language. These are scary moments in people’s lives–we don’t need to compound them by adding pressure just to satisfy us.

Shift your awareness from your egocentric self and focus instead on those around you. Rather than pointing the flash-light of your consciousness at yourself and your own repetitive self-conversations, shine your light on someone else.

You think you need to change your life to enjoy it more, when in fact you would enjoy it more if you focused your energy on others. If you have enough to give then surely you have enough for yourself. You know that in a fundamental way, so the act of giving becomes one of reinforcement and resilience for the giver. The more you help others the stronger you feel.

882 Relax and Succeed - The smallest act of kindnessStop trying to elevate your ego. Enrich your soul instead. Connect with others knowing that you have the capacity to do enough to make a difference. Maybe it’s not a lot, but the act itself has value.

Give today. In random ways. Pay for the coffee behind you at the drive-thru. Hold a door for someone carrying things. Let someone else have the parking spot. Do a favour for a co-worker or friend. Look into volunteering to see if there’s something you would actually enjoy doing more than what you’re spending your time on now. It doesn’t really matter what it is you do. What matters if is if you do it.

Get out there. Make a difference. Add yourself to the section of humanity that has discovered the secret to enjoying one’s life–the simple recognition and sharing of our existing good-fortune. Go ahead and make some great days everyone. Starting now.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations around the world.

Understanding Acceptance

This is about how to live in an accepting state of mind. Because from that perspective absolutely everything is some form of good news. Will the universe occasionally derail a direction we were going? For sure. But why assume that’s a bad thing? Why, if you miss making a green light, do you assume you’ll possibly be late for work, rather than that you possibly just missed being in an accident?

478 Relax and Succeed - Act without expectationAcceptance is what you do when you’re grateful for your life even if it isn’t lining up with what you fantasized would or should happen. When you don’t imagine much in your future, and you don’t use words in your head to argue with yourself about things not being the way you did imagine them, what’s left is: the world. And it turns out that if you are quiet-minded then you’re also very likely to have profoundly rewarding experiences almost anywhere, doing almost anything. Even stuff that most people call bad.

Here’s a common one I see. Maybe you’re a mid-thirties woman who has never been married, or is now divorced. But you imagined being married and well on your way to that life you’d imagined as a kid where you could host the family for Christmas and show off your smart, well-behaved kids. But now here you are, unattached, at a job that doesn’t inspire you, childless, or maybe a single mom, and you’re telling yourself that you’ve failed when really it’s just that you’re not currently understanding.

All of those judgments about your life about you being a failure or you being wrong because of the way you are—those all take place in the confines of your consciousness. They are only thoughts. They only have the power you give them by turning them into actions or by allowing them to lead to even more damaging narratives. But if you just see them and let them pass, you can then take your consciousness and focus it on something rewarding instead. That ability to choose is at the heart of who and what you are.

A good example is my own life. I was recently fired from a job I loved. That’s something that would bother most people. But I live with acceptance. Here’s how that works: If I’m a primarily ego-based person, then I am my various identities, and any threat to those identities is perceived as a threat to me. So if someone attacks my job—one of our primary identifiers—then I’m likely to be upset. Also, if we associate happiness with the job—which I definitely did—then we also feel we’re losing that. And so we will tell ourselves stories about what we’ll miss about the job, or how we feel it’s all unfair, or that we weren’t respected etc. etc. The pain will often emerge as depression or blame or anger.

478 Relax and Succeed - There is always a piece of fortuneSo what did I do differently? When I learned it I heard it fully. Meaning I didn’t just think of it as existing from only my perspective, like a raindrop hitting my head. I knew that raindrop was condensed in the sky by certain specific conditions and then it fell a great distance before I was involved. Buddhist Causality as it were. So in this case I quickly knew the condensation point.

You see, I’m attempting to accomplish something very important in my life and in the life of my best friend. It’s my intention to have us both completely out of any debt within a few years, and so I have been working four jobs for some time. This obviously stretches my time ridiculously and each week is a matter of choosing which things won’t get done. Every week it’s 50 marbles and a 40 marble jar. My prioritization of those marbles is based on how important to the world I believe each marble is. This means administrative tasks are often left to last because they are the recording of existence, but they not much existence in and of themselves.

Despite the 1.5 hour commute each way, I loved my job at the college. In a life that was jammed packed with some of life’s heaviest responsibilities, the students were these refreshingly brilliant, highly motivated and enthusiastic souls that were a complete pleasure to teach. And I was proud of my work there, especially my nearly perfect student feedback scores. I cared about those kids and it’s important to me that they knew that.

I’ve had the most senior broadcasting job there is in film and television production and as only the people who’ve had it know, the knowledge that job exposed me to was much more useful than any other experience could have been. In a way, it was an amalgamation of everyone’s experience. And because I was sharing that with the class, they got a lot during their time with me. And so I have zero regrets about the job itself. I was passionate about teaching those students as much as I 478 Relax and Succeed - When you say yes to otherscould in the time we had together. I cared about their emotional well being at that same time, and I did all I could to try to communicate to them the greatness I saw in each and every one of them. But all that said, I did not get my p0st-semester reports written. And I was aware I needed more rest.

These reports describe how the year went and what I felt I learned. These are essentially me writing down my own life lesson so that it can be put into a file and no one will really ever look at it. So in my world I do an assessment: I could take the time away from the students and do the report instead. But the report barely makes the universe better and that’s if it does at all. But time with the students can change them, and their films can change the world. I won’t pretend it wasn’t an easy choice. The kids got as much time as I could find for them. The administration—theirs and my own—was largely put in boxes to be gotten-to when I had fewer jobs and healthier parents.

Now, that’s my world and my decisions. But I work for a college and a Dean. And my Dean’s a nice guy. He cares about the kids. But he’s got responsibilities that go with the title of Dean. He needs his reports so that he can check off his boxes so his boss knows that he did his job. That’s how it is when organizations get big. There’s more and more administrative time spent proving things happened than there is in making them happen. It’s like that everywhere. So I totally get why the Dean needs these reports, and even why his boss needs them. And I thought he was fantastically patient with me. He virtually begged me to get them in. But with parents that need me more and more, plus all of those other jobs, him wanting them didn’t change the fact that only once did those reports ever rank high enough in priority that I worked on them. I’m always trying to learn from my 478 Relax and Succeed - I don't want to earn my livingexperiences so, whether I wrote it down or not, I agreed with the concept the request was based on. It’s really a request that people be conscious about their development as an instructor and I fully support that. But I didn’t get the reports done and so I cannot blame the Dean. This is a natural, logical progression of events. So how do I handle this spiritually?

As I noted above, I take what happens in my life as something I have chosen. I immediately begin to look at the upsides. So when I learned about it, the very first thought was about how much I’ll miss the feeling of being with the class. It was very inspiring. But I also quickly realized why the Dean had to do what he did and I immediately agreed with him, and I felt compassion for the fact that I undoubtedly generated some grief in his life over the issue. I was also sorry for the future kids who would lose out on the benefit of my unique experience and how much I genuinely care about them, but I also knew that they had other really great instructors and that I was also simultaneously struggling to find enough time in my own schedule.

I kept looking at ditching one of the other jobs because I associated the teaching job with the most fun. I didn’t want to lose the fun. But once it happened it quickly dawned on me that—time-wise and financially—it was by far the best choice to make. It’s given me more time to focus on important projects and as much as I still know it would be awesome to be with a class again, my life feels better now than it did then. Plus, the fact that it happened the way it did, that caused a ton of people to call and write to me to express their love and support, and I wouldn’t likely have had that happen if I had decided to leave. Overall it’s turned out to be just the right thing at just the right time and I’m grateful it all happened. Because I love my past classes so much that I just know I would have continued to work there long after it made sense. Now’s a better time than what I would have likely chosen.

So that’s how you face something you might initially think you don’t want. So just like anyone, when I first learned it I got an initial emotional wallop. And then that feeling told me to check in with my thinking to see where I was at. That was fortunately already pretty calm, and then I just did an assessment as though there was no “me” involved and when I thought it through and it all made sense. And then I immediately started looking for and then noticing the upsides of the situation, now that I was seeing things from a different perspective. And I was pretty much happy within minutes and it’s all worked out better than the direction I was going.

478 Relax and Succeed - Everything has beautySo: some of those mornings when the power goes out while you’re asleep and your alarm clock doesn’t ring? Some of those mornings you’re better off than you would have been if you’d woken up on time. Trust the universe. It’s bountiful. Don’t feel cheated by un-met promises you made to yourself. Feel grateful for the opportunity to make a conscious step in your journey. Because the more you’re awake for those choices the better and more alive your life will be. Trust me, when they play that if you could be anyone in the world who would you be? game, I’m the guy who keeps picking my own life.

Forget about what you thought would happen. Be present with what is happening and you will live a life of startling clarity and reward. I can tell you this from experience. Let go. Bring the Present Moment into your consciousness. It is filled with abundance. Be grateful.

peace. s

PS I actually wanted to write to the Dean to make sure he didn’t feel guilty but I never had time, so this way I get a blog done too. You see, there it is again; there are so many bits of good-fortune in every day if only we’re awake to greet them.