Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Fri 5/13/2005 3:05 AM
Random Thought: Everyday Mitzvahs, IV

There are times I love one particular one syllable four letter word. It can be so to the point. It's so short and last so long. It's so quick to say and yet means so much. In one staccato breath, you have lasting impact. With this one word you can speak proverbial volumes. I used it emphatically on the last day of the semester. It was the last thing I said to the students at the end of end-of-semester "closure." I told them "I love ya."

Love. That's a lovely a four letter word. I love it! It is not just the secret to performing mitzvahs; it is, as the great rabbi, Hillel, said, love itself. It's an oxymoron to say you can perform a mitzvah without love, that you can be kind without love, that you can be considerate without love, that you can be respectful without love. And, it is no different with teaching! Love is the secret to being a successful teacher. Love is what teaching is all about. No, I'll go farther. Teaching is love, unconditional love, itself. That became my avowed first principle of teaching over eight years ago. Without love, whatever act you perform is uninspired and insipid, and it falls flat. When you perform an act with unconditional love, it is full and comes alive.

Now, I'm not talking about figurative love, that is, love of your subject or love of your position or love of your authority or love to lecture or love of your research and publication. As Bob Dylan would say, I'm talking about something that's not just a four-letter word. I am talking about love for each person. I will submit without hesitation or equivocation or reservation that you cannot truly teach unless you have love for each and every person. Without love you remain distant and detached. Sure, you can do the technical stuff and call it teaching. You can lecture, discuss, assign, test, and grade. However, they don't provide a spiritual base. They don't touch the deepest place in a person's heart. They don't transport you to high places. They don't give you a sense of otherness. They don't make you listen to and see others. They don't keep hope alive. They don't keep the fires of faith burning. They don't keep the fountain of youth gushing. They don't invest you in life and thus in change and transformation. As Leo Buscaglia might say, they don't get you beyond just being so that you can be in touch with being human and becoming a human being. They don't catch the beauty of the moment. They don't open your arms and keep them open. They donít make you more selfless, more respecting, more trusting, more giving, more confident, more sensitive, more mindful, more aware, warmer, more caring, more supporting, more encouraging, more believing, and, above all, more loving in the way you feel, the way you think, the way you talk, and the way you behave towards students.

Think I'm being mushy, naÔve, giggly, sappy, wishy-washy, and touchy-feely? Think I'm being impractical? Think I'm being unprofessional? My colleague and friend, Pat Burns, sent me a statement by Major-General John H. Stanford, a retired battle hardened veteran of Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf War. He was Superintendent of the Seattle school system when he was asked about the secret to success about the educational "revolution" he triggered in Seattle. His answer is now hanging above my computer where I can see it every day. These are his words:

When anyone asks me that question, I tell them I have the secret to success in life. The secret to success is to stay in love. Staying in love gives you the fire to ignite other people, to see inside other people, to have a greater desire to get things done than other people. A person who is not in love doesnít really feel the kind of excitement that helps them to get ahead and to lead others to achieve. I donít know any other fire, any other thing in life that is more exhilarating and is more positive a feeling than love is.

Love sounds doggone practical to me. Now, staying in love is what I might call a "constant mitzvah." I am convinced of that; I trust that; I don't doubt that. I grow in it; I'm dedicated to it; I live it. I've used it the subtitle of the forthcoming third volume of collected Random Thoughts. So, for better or worse, I freely admit that I am a prisoner of my own loving assumptions: that each student has a unique potential. Itís impossible for me not to see what I assume is there: a sacred human being worthy of notice. It's impossible for me not to lift my eyes beyond discipline, position, and scholarship to focus on what I hold most sacred in academia: a person. Itís impossible for me not to strive to accomplish what I assume I can do: to use all my energy and talent to help each student help him/herself become the person he or she is capable of becoming. It's impossible for me not to be what I need to be: authentic, vulnerable, risk-taking, experimental, engaged, trustworthy, and respectful. It's impossible for me not to feel what I feel for each student: love. It's impossible for me to allow other pursuits to compete with and overwhelm my desire to serve each student. It's impossible for me not to share my feelings with others--students, faculty, staff, administrators, whomever--so they can hopefully get caught up and share in those feelings. It's impossible for me not to put my heart into everything I do. So, as Goethe would say, I can't help but treat students as if they were what they ought to be. That gives me a better chance of performing everyday mitzvahs.

Trust me. I am not saying that this is easy to do; it's not. Iím not saying there arenít obstacles and problems; there are. I'm not saying there won't be disappointments; there will be. I'm not saying there won't be annoyances and maybe even aggravations; there will be. I'm not saying you won't be tested to the hilt; oh, you will be taken to the edge. I am not saying this is a simple matter; it's not. And Iím not saying the results are guaranteed; they aren't. Putting your heart into teaching can be heart wrenching. Nevertheless, I am saying that what at times may seem like a burdensome responsibility is in fact a golden opportunity. I am saying that a mitzvah doesn't cost a thing, but its worth is unimaginable. I am saying that love is about you and your wellbeing as well as that of the student's. I am saying that the adage "itís better to give than receive" is true. A successful academic career is not a matter of acquiring a list of publications, of securing a host of grants, of securing tenure and promotions. A successful career comes from giving meaning and purpose to the abilities and resources with which you are blessed in the service of others. I don't know about you, but my satisfaction factor is closely linked more to giving help than receiving accolades. And yet, I receive. When I perform a mitzvah, or when I have learned that I have inadvertently done one, I become more, not less. I have more, not less. I am enriched, not poorer. I am vitalized, not fatigued. I am strengthened, not atrophied. I am encouraged, not discouraged. I am filled, not depleted. When I give to someone or learn I have given to someone, I get what might be called a ďhelperís high.Ē Itís almost like feeling such a flood of feel-good hormones surging through me that it makes an adrenalin rush feel like a trickle. It seems that when I contribute to the betterment of each student, when I open my heart to listen and care about each of them and serve them, it changes the way I look at the world. I smile. Iím more optimistic, more enthusiastic, and more loving; my life and work are fuller, more meaningful, more purposeful, and more joyous; and, I am more at peace and happier.

         Make it a good day.


         Louis Schmier      
         Department of History
         Valdosta State University
         Valdosta, GA  31698                 /~\        /\ /\
         912-333-5947              /^\      /     \    /  /~\  \   /~\__/\
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                        -_~    /  "If you want to climb mountains,   \ /^\
                         _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -    \____

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