In first grade, I was sent behind the piano with a dunce cap. In second grade, my mouth was taped shut for an afternoon. In third grade, I spent most of the year in the hall. In short, I was a bad boy in school.
And so my revenge was to become a teacher and spend a lifetime in a school. A school that welcomed rather than shamed children’s extravagant energy, a craft that found the perfect place to express that exuberance— in music, dance, poetry, drama. So far so good.
But the pattern of rubbing against the grain of institutions and institutional thinking persisted and even in that home of homes that had been the school, I stood up and spoke out when decisions betraying the character of the school were being made by an increasing top-heavy administration. Once again, they tried to tape my mouth shut, put me behind the piano or out into the hall. Once again, I was the bad boy but now armed with a lifetime of learning to articulate the why and wherefore of my resistance to conformity.
But I suffered greatly from the sense of being betrayed by the school I had loved (and still do!) so much. Of course, I took it personally, I was outraged by what felt like abuse of political power, I was gravely disappointed by many (but not all) of my colleagues who consented to have their mouths taped shut and to sit passively behind the piano. I eventually came to a place of forgiveness (but never forgetting) by aligning with an identity larger than the school and understanding that the depth of my heartbreak was exactly proportional to the height of my love and in the words of David Whyte (from his poem Still Possible), it’s possible to:
‘… realize that you’ve always had your life shattered and your heart broken and your faith tested by loving too much and too often and that all along, it was never too much and never too often, and that you were never, ever, fully broken.…”
Looking back at it all, I recently had a new insight. All of these times of “getting in trouble” were not a personality issue or even a political issue. At the heart of the matter was a principle I was defending, a principle I had at first intuitively and then consciously understood and stood up for. This brought me to a way of thinking about this that would have helped me when in the midst of it all. And might be helpful for others to consider in the push and pull of a world where most everyone feels exiled from or betrayed by or hurt by their own workplace or family or political system. Read on tomorrow about the 3 P’s—Principles, Politics and Personality.