“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.”
For some people, the purpose of going back to school is to obtain a piece of paper, some kind of documentation to improve your job opportunities. For others, it is a way to prove something to yourself. Perhaps as a child you were led to believe that you were not capable, you were filled full of doubt instead of confidence. I have seen many students who have to fight negative voices in their heads before they can even begin to learn.
I once asked my father how it was that he and his two brothers all decided to enter the ministry. His father was a truck driver, his mother a housewife. One answer he gave was that for his people (the Welsh) who were mired in poverty, education was seen as the only way out. One of his mother’s brothers was a University graduate who was a minister, a role model for the three Jones boys.
My father was also an avid reader, with a curiosity that inspired him to keep learning. At age 49 he went back to University to obtain a Masters degree. His thesis was typed painstakingly, with foot notes, in triplicate, by my mother and was a history of the role of the church and missionary society in the West Indies. I was the about the same age when I returned to school almost 30 years after graduating from nursing school.
If you are very lucky, the act of pursuing higher education becomes an end in itself. Although there are tedious requirements: quizzes to study for, papers to write, deadlines to meet, the end result can be like a door opening to a Pandora’s box of information. I joke that it took me so long to go back to school because I thought they couldn’t teach me anything more about nursing. For a while I told my family that I would rather study something different, what more could I possibly learn? The answer was that I hardly knew anything about nursing! There was a whole world of knowledge, a whole body of information that I was ignorant about. Going back to school gave my brain a chance to breathe, to expand, to bend in new directions.
Perhaps everyone does not have this experience, and school can become tedious and frustrating. But life itself is fascinating, and if you approach each day as an opportunity to learn something new, it can prove to be an adventure. As a nurse I was blessed to be able to learn from my patients. As a teacher, I now am learning from my students. Going back into the hospital environment with students, I get a double dose of wisdom, sometimes from the least likely places. Yesterday a Jamaican lady who is in the middle stages of dementia reminded me that ‘Life is a funny thing’. She also showed me that dementia does not prevent a person from having a sense of humor. She managed to get a smile out of an employee who seemed to be in a bad mood. After getting the woman to smile, she turned to me and said “You have to watch them, you know. You have to be very careful!” She was able to see through the woman’s insincere smile!
One of the problems about seeing life from your own perspective is that it does not prepare you for those who have completely different motivations. And so it becomes very difficult to teach people who look at education as the means to an end. They approach the process as punishment; every assignment is designed to waste their time, every obstacle is created to postpone their ultimate goal. The challenge for the teacher is to break through that attitude and try to instill a desire to discover, to explore and to continue on the quest on their own. I have had to learn not to set my expectations too high. It may only be one or two of the students in any given class who show that spark, that desire to gain an understanding of the knowledge needed to become a nurse. And although that is sad, you can only hope that you have planted a seed in the rest that will spring to life sooner or later, when the ground is more fertile, or the right conditions appear.
I recently had a conversation with one of my children regarding the difference between knowledge and enlightenment. Knowledge for knowledge’s sake may be an empty achievement if it is not a window to awareness. What I have gained since returning to school has been that awareness, that sensitivity to a world that formerly existed totally outside of my consciousness. A word that has become more popular in recent years is ‘cognizant’. I have become more cognizant of all that I don’t know. Which has inspired me to keep on learning.
This morning I hope you are open to information that presents itself to you, and that you find ways to seek out knowledge. I hope that this will be an awakening, a desire to continue to find out more about this world in which we live. Once we open our minds we can be more compassionate about the struggles of others. I have not yet seen the movie “The Butler” but I am hoping that it will provide an opportunity for many people to experience a world they did not know before. Knowledge without that awareness is useless.
Have a fabulous Friday, family, and a wonderfully wise weekend. Take advantage of all that the world offers you every day. Let us not waste our moments in meaningless trivia, but in striving to make the most of this life that we have. It may not be the life you dreamed of many years ago, but it is up to you to do the work, to keep the fire of curiosity burning in your brain.
One Love Family!