Explorations and Reflections

on awakening the true self  in education

  • Mick Scott

Much of our experience of life is actually the experience of our thinking of life. In fact, it's like we've constructed our own version of the matrix, where we're not interacting with objects and people as they are. Instead, we interact with the categories with which we've labeled the objects and people in our thinking. This is an example of when the veil drops: cognitive biases let us short-cut an authentic interaction with the people and objects in order to simplify our lives.

However, when the veil drops between us and another person (and it OFTEN drops between us), there are real impacts on us and others, especially when as a teacher I'm always modeling behavior, relationships, and attitudes for my students.

When it's foggy, it's tough to see the road beyond a few feet in front of us. But there's no way to fight the fog (as a teacher friend, Skip, used to say, "you can't punch a cloud"). Instead, we focus on the thing right in front of us, the part of the road that we can see.

Likewise, when we're listening through a filter, it's tough to hear the person beyond the words they're saying or see the true person beyond the personality disposition. So focus on the person really right in front of you, not the silhouette of a person that you think defines their true character. What is he actually saying? How about what you're actually thinking?

Like the fog, your filters dissipate into the atmosphere while you focus on what matters most: the person right in front of you.

Here are some tips that I've found helpful:

Tip 1: Assume that you have filters for everyone - start noticing.

When we're feeling love for another person, the filters are usually gone. But in the absence of love, we can hardly help but see others through a filter. Even with those we deeply love, like a partner or a child, the filters pop up and the experience of love vanishes (I'm struggling with a behavior filter that I have for one of my kids right now).

The point here is that it's natural to have filters, and we all have them.

Assume that you have a filter for everyone. Then, distinguish what that filter is: he's selfish, she's aloof, they're mean, she's stubborn, he's judgmental. Begin to notice when the veil drops, when the filter slips into place. Noticing is a practice. You can learn to notice it more easily, more quickly.

Tip 2: They're not responding to you.

In The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz points to a key way to lift the veil: Don't take anything personally.

That look they gave you? They're not responding to you.

The comment you overheard? They're not responding to you.

The expression on their face? They're not responding to you.

Their attitude? They're not responding to you.

Their response to your prompt? They're not responding to you.

Even when you're sure that they're responding to you? They're not responding to you.

Everyone has filters, and the other person is just responding to their filter of you; they're not really responding to you. If love is absent, there's likely a filter of some kind there.

Who knows what's going on for another person anyway? Like the irascible lion who just needs the splinter removed from his paw, perhaps a bit more understanding and compassion is all people are looking for.

Use it as a mantra if you want to. Get this into your bones. They're not responding to you.

Tip 3: Consider the impacts and alternatives.

As long as the filter is "the truth" about another person, I'll forever see them that way. But we're not limited to seeing only through our filters. There's always an actual person there that we can focus on and get in touch with.

Think about a person (a student perhaps) that you have an obvious filter for. Answer these questions:

1. What are the impacts of having this filter? In other words, what does it cost?

2. How would you rather see this person?

3. How could you be in this relationship, something that might make a positive difference, that you haven't yet been?

Bringing that way of being to the relationship can help dissolve your filter, melt their filter for you, and allow love to arise.

For me (and probably you too?), love is the natural state of a relationship between me and others. If fears, insecurities, and other thoughts don't form into a filter and get in the way, I love people. I love the way they look, the way they sound, the miracle of their consciousness, their ability to think, that they have passions and interests.

Filters have a cost. They cost love, affinity, affection, compassion, empathy, understanding, and enjoyment.

What I can bring to my relationships where filters are in the way of me experiencing my love for others: courage, engagement, compassion, generosity, creativity, honesty, passion, partnership, and more.

The veil may often drop between us and others, obscuring our experience of the person actually there. But we can lift it.

Thanks so much for reading ♥️.

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  • Mick Scott

I had a high school math teacher who I don't think liked me back then. He had a short temper with me a few times, and it felt like an overreaction. Looking back on it now, I can see that he was likely responding to who he thought I was, not who I really was. Most of us have had that experience, where what we're actually saying isn't being heard because of the filter someone has for us. It happens between teachers too.

When I get in front of a class at the start of the semester, there are certain looks that I'll sometimes get from kids - seeming looks of judgment, or superiority, or something - and I'll notice a veil drop between me and them, a translucent wall. The veil is a sort of filter. How the kid looks, how the kid talks, will get bent by the filter, blurred in such a way that the kid continues to look and sound how I would expect them to. A self-reinforcing system, courtesy of confirmation bias.

When the veil drops, we're not seeing others as they really are.

As humans, we all do this (there are evolutionary reasons for these cognitive biases). There are two mechanisms at work. One is the mechanism of keeping myself safe. The wall acts as a self-reinforcing filter, and it constantly reminds me to avoid being too vulnerable with this kid (or colleague or stranger), because it could be dangerous.

The second mechanism is the shortcut mechanism. We create mental shortcuts: we categorize people and places and things in order to be a little lazy. It would be exhausting to see everything as it is all the time, seeing each thing newly and freshly. The shortcut mechanism reduces brain processing and allows us to conserve calories.

What are the impact of these filters on you?

I suspect that neither of the justifications above are worth that impact. So, how do we get rid of the filter so that we can see the person who's actually there?

Thanks for joining me on this exploration/reflection! If you'd like to receive blog updates via email, be sure to subscribe here.

Most adults can think back to a special teacher, one who impacted them in some valuable way. Big or small, the impact of this teacher (or teachers) is profound - they touched some key part of who we are, they spoke to us in a way that resonated with our inner self.

Who do you have in mind?

If we put all of these teachers in the same room together, the ones that connected most to me and the ones that connected most to you, we’d see that they’re quite different people with different teaching techniques.* Men, women, young, old, positive, irascible. Some were lecturers, some were lab scientists, some told jokes, some had impossibly high standards. There’d be almost no discernible similarity among them that would point to the “special sauce”, the way to have a meaningful impact on students.

The only clear similarity among them is that they’re all human. And so are we.

There’s something in who we are as living beings that allows us to connect with other living beings. The life and beauty and innate well-being in who I am acknowledging the life and beauty and innate well-being in who you are. This isn’t the key gap in education that I’m seeking to fill, but it is the way in, the way through the door, the access to filling the gap.

The special sauce in teaching is not about the technique. It’s not about the perfect lesson plan, the organized handouts, the classroom decorations, the pedagogical approach. Yes, those things matter, and they’re certainly ingredients of an effective, well-structured learning environment. But they’re not ingredients of the special sauce.

Instead, the special sauce is something much more special than technique. It’s ancient, universal, and grounded. This special sauce is infused in some way within the teaching. In fact, it comes from within the teacher. And it speaks to something within you.

The special sauce is a teacher’s capacity to awaken truth within us.*

And there's actually nothing "special" about it. It's a capacity we all have to tap into who we really are.

* So much gratitude to Parker Palmer for the ideas noted and these beautiful lines his book, The Courage to Teach: “The power of our mentors is not necessarily in the models of good teaching they gave us, models that may turn out to have little to do with who we are as teachers. Their power is in their capacity to awaken a truth within us.”

Thanks for joining me on this exploration/reflection! If you'd like to receive blog updates via email, be sure to subscribe here.


Photo credit to the photographers at www.unsplash.com and Wix.

Music credit to the musicians at freemusicarchive.org.

©2021 by Mick Scott