Hidden Genius

1296 Relax and Succeed - To live a great life

Fame, money and popularity are just as likely to lead to a person’s self-destruction as they are to equal a good or meaningful life. Despite our common drive to have those big identities, in many cases the most successful lives are those that happen quietly, in the background. Ours are likely some of them.

The greatest lives are lived by those who see greatness in others and greatness in the world around them –including themselves. It literally means they spend their lives surrounded by greatness and generally feeling great. How can that not feel good?

It’s important to note that a great life isn’t more fun or less trouble than other people’s lives. Instead, ‘problems’ and ‘mistakes’ are accepted as a fundamental part of the deal. That leaves the wise to focus instead on the wonderfully satisfied feeling that comes with relentlessly and confidently being ourselves and allowing others to do likewise –all while comfortably accepting the prices associated with us being us and them being them.

Examples of the sorts of quiet but internally great lives –the sort that have opened up universes of beauty for others– can be found by tracing a theory I’ve long had. That theory suggests that if we tracked backwards from the world’s greatest minds, we will often find the same teachers, or coaches or inspirations that many great people would have in common as powerful influences.

If you stop to think of your own life, there’s usually entire groups of kids who define a particular teacher as being one of the best they’ve ever had. It’s because those teachers are overflowing with their ability to see the world’s beauty in some particular way, and in sharing it they give others lifelong gifts that matter more than any other kind. We remember the people that gave us those.

1296 Relax and Succeed - Math teacher George Berzensnyi

This article features one of those visionaries. George Berzsenyi is someone who saw potential in others and he offered himself selflessly to them simply because he took so much joy from sharing the beauty he saw.

Whether this article drew attention to him or not, George would still have opened many wonderful doors for many people. And all of that joy and awareness was created directly through his sharing. That is a beautiful legacy. And what a win-win for he and the students –that sharing and that appreciation was how they spent their lives!

I know if it was film or TV I’d sincerely rather see a student I’d had win an award than to get one myself. That would likely mean they had seen the beauty I was trying to show them. I’d love to think I helped them see it, but the only really important thing is that they got to see it at all.

I feel the same way about this work. Everyone seems beautiful to me and I absolutely love sharing what I see in them, with them. It feels good when they see how beautiful they are, and how beautiful the people unfairly judging us all are –after all, we are all each other. If we learn to let that be, people struggle less with the world and they let it –and more importantly themselves– flow more freely, which naturally releases joy.

That being the case, let us commit to sharing our passions. If we don’t know what we’d share, let’s start figuring out why we don’t already know what that is and then seek the answer within ourselves, even if that means taking on some searching. Bottom line, everyone has wonderful things to offer. And the generosity feels good to give. So give.

It certainly does the world no good for anyone to withhold their light. Don’t hide yours. Shine baby shine.

peace. s

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.