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Explorations and Reflections

on awakening the true self 

  • Writer's pictureMick Scott

Don't Go Back to Sleep

There was a whisper that I heard in class that day...

I was frustrated and starting to get angry as I stood in front of 32 juniors in one of the best public high schools in Baltimore. I was introducing a new topic and while most students were attentive and interested, there were a couple distracted students much more interested in discussing something completely different.

So I called the kids out - couldn't they see that they were squandering an opportunity at this school? Couldn't they see that this education was a ticket to a brighter future, a good job, a better world? Couldn't they see that they need this education in order to make good money and be successful in life?

As I heard those words coming out of my mouth, though, I also heard a whisper: those words weren't mine. It would have been easy to ignore the whisper and go back to sleep. I'm glad that I didn't.

These kids weren't conforming to what students are supposed to be like, and I couldn't think of any other way to engage them than to manipulate them into conforming. Armed with a gradebook and self-righteousness, I was using my authority as the adult in the room to reinforce society's perspective on what qualifies as proper and successful behavior.

In allowing society to speak through me in that way, it's as if I had gone to sleep and some conditioned perspective reared its head and spoke through my mouth.

How often throughout our day are we speaking and acting as if from a script? It's as if we've put our own consciousness to sleep and allowed auto-drive to take over. At these times, we roll through our day, oblivious to our surroundings, our colleagues, and our loved ones except to channel some pre-determined approach to being and living in the world.

And some of us have gotten pretty successful at playing our role. Many of us start off in our careers with an evident desire to conform to convention, the driving force behind impostor syndrome. Over time, though, we no longer try to fit the mold - we become the mold.

Many of us teachers are reinforcing these societally constructed and reinforced norms throughout our day. Norms and conventions in our subject matter (like solving physics problems and learning programming syntax) of course, but then also norms and conventions for behaving, speaking, and acting. Heck, even norms and conventions for thinking.

It's really okay that we all do this; it even makes a lot of sense. Our modern societies have been sustainable because of a willingness to conform to convention. It's personally comforting to an extent, and it's certainly safer knowing that society approves of our actions, that our parents and their friends would likely approve, and that our teachers would be proud.

But it's not always authentic or what's best either for us adults or the kids that we impact. In fact, it might be detrimental.

Most of us know when we're reinforcing someone else's perspective or conforming to someone else's standard of behavior. Most of us hear the whisper of wisdom within when there's a better way or that it doesn't have to be this way.

It may feel a little scary and be a little uncomfortable to say something we've never said before or to be honest in a new way, especially if it's against the grain. The impact, however, can be profound.

As soon as I felt that internal dissonance in my classroom 15 years ago, I made a promise to not disrespect my students anymore by manipulating them into conforming. I also made a promise to be authentic with my students, even if I wasn't sure the best way how. I, they, and the world needs that level of authenticity - it's the only soil in which integrity, creativity, and transformation can grow.

When you hear that whisper talking to you, don't go back to sleep.

Thanks so much for reading.❤️ And thanks to my friend, Eric, for reminding me of this message.

Don't Go Back to Sleep by Rumi

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.

Don't go back to sleep.

You must ask for what you really want.

Don't go back to sleep.

People are going back and forth

across the doorsill

where the two worlds touch.

The door is round and open.

Don't go back to sleep.

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