“Feel better fast”
“Good vibes, good life”
“Eliminate Negative Thinking”
The list of suggested books that Rupert, the life coach who spoke at the seminar, gave us at the end of the training course “A lesson in positivity for desperate teachers” is clear: even the school world, lost in a period in which the dear old certainties seem not to be enough, is increasingly influenced by the culture of personal growth, self-help, the transformation of negative energies into creative drives.
The rules that, as the Headmaster pointed out at the end of the seminar, we teachers too should learn to apply in our classrooms from now on are those inspired by the most contemporary and widespread sociological trends in terms of improving life:
Learn visualisation techniques
Avoid negative thoughts
Only compete against yourself
Set small challenges
I like these guidelines, they have the flavour of spirituality, of an ancient wisdom. And they made me think that, after all, we teachers are not too different from the pupils we want to teach. When we apply the LifeSkills teaching method, for example, we teach them that they must learn to recognise their own emotions, even though we ourselves often find it difficult to recognise our own.
ACTIVITY: In the word cloud you can see a list of feelings and emotions. Write them in the boxes below, dividing them into “positive” and “negative”. Justify your answers.
Yes… it is true… emotion maps and lists of suggestions to stimulate improvement are always a good starting point. But I also think it is very important not to confuse the map with the destination itself, or the rules for achieving a goal with the goal achieved.
Simplifications are all very well – in fact they are fundamental – to get our bearings at the beginning, but I think it is always important to remind the students – and, indeed, ourselves – that reality is complex, and that solutions to problems are complex too.
And then I have to be honest… I’m not at all sure that avoiding negative thoughts is a good way to improve oneself. Every time I’ve taken a step forward in my life, I’ve done it because I’ve had a pain, with something inside me that didn’t feel right. And it is not only the victories that I have celebrated, but also the defeats, because it is from these that I have gained something solid for myself.
ACTIVITY: Write about a time when something went wrong in your life, and how that experience taught you a useful lesson.
I thought and thought about it, then finally I did it.
I called Rupert and invited him for a coffee at the school café.
After all, it was he who encouraged me: ‘be persistent’, ‘set small challenges’.
So I called him and told him I would love to meet him and reciprocate his advice by giving him a great self-help book.
“Ah… what’s that? Something I haven’t read yet? A new author?” he asked me over the phone.
“Yes… I think it’s something you haven’t read yet, but you certainly couldn’t say it was ‘a new author’,” I replied.
You should have seen his face when I handed him a copy of “Moby Dick“.
“But this…” he stammered looking at me strangely, “but this is… a novel…”
“Oh no… this is the forefather of Self-Help books… the sum total of all the lessons about the goals we set and don’t achieve, and the lessons we draw from experience.”
“It’s very long…” he continued hesitantly.
“Well… you can always read it one chapter at a time,” I told him as I got up from the coffee table and gathered my things to go back to class, “Like you said… Set small challenges. One chapter at a time will do.”
I felt like he was hurt, and I felt a little guilty. It wasn’t my intention to belittle his self-help teachers, I just wanted to tell him that the great novelists pass on the same lessons, but they do it in a more complex, more articulate, more structured way, and that’s what makes them more interesting than any life coach.
Moby Dick is a lesson in life on every page. For while Captain Ahab persists in his obsessive search for the white whale, his sailor Ishmael never misses a chance to turn adventure into a quest for the meaning of existence. And in his search, he discovers the power of friendship, learns to accept that life is as full of unfathomable mysteries as the sea in which he sails, and, a key lesson, discovers the dangers of choosing the wrong leaders.
“But don’t worry if you can’t finish it, Rupert,” I then said to try and recover some of his enthusiasm, “as they say in the world of Personal Growth… I try all things, I achieve what I can.”
“How beautiful!” he exclaimed all excited, “And who said that?”
“Ishmael said it, of course,” I replied smiling, “The main character in Moby Dick.”
TO GO FURTHER
Read the emotion map above carefully. Now make a list of novels and short stories that have made an impression on you or that have stuck in your mind. Now associate each title with a particular emotion on the map (or add one or more if you have others in mind).
Write a key sentence next to each title to explain your choice.