Welcome to Day 21 of “30 Days of Brené Brown.” Are you all still with me? It’s getting quiet out there…
What we know matters but who we are matters more.
― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
Each Friday I volunteer with another parent at the school to co-lead a “Socratic Seminar” class with six students. Socratic Seminar is a peer-study program designed to inspire respectful debate and deep thinking using content related to the classroom program to enrich what the students are being taught but by using classic art, music, poetry and essays. We have been covering a “A Nation’s Strength” by Ralph Waldo Emerson which he wrote about the American Revolution and the kids love it.
Here’s the poem:
What makes a nation’s pillars high
And its foundations strong?
What makes it might to defy
The foes that round it throng?
It is not gold. Its kingdoms grand
Go down in battle shock;
Its shafts are laid on sinking sand,
Not on abiding rock.
Not gold but only men can make
A people great and strong;
Men who for truth and honor’s sake
Stand fast and suffer long.
I wonder what Emerson would think about my poem about my cat?
What this class is teaching me is that these kids aren’t fooled by much.
While a couple of them were confused by “round it throng”?? and “abiding rock”?? Once we could explain it to them, they showed us their stuff.
The children I’ve worked with have shown me that they see right through all the garbage in the world: bluster, ego, and shallowness. They get that gold owned by a minority contributes nothing to the world but more greed; and that everyone working for the common good, no matter how big the struggle is what it takes to make a nation strong.
They came to impressive conclusions about foundations and quickly talked about teams — oh! the analogies about soccer teams and baseball teams and swimming relays! It was great! They might be little, but they see a lot and they are totally paying attention.
One of the rules of etiquette is to not belittle another student or use sarcasm. I asked them if they knew what it meant and a little girl raised her hand and said, “when you use a tone of voice or words that sound one way but mean something else, usually in an unkind way.” She is nine.
They preach: “you get what you give.” They understand that several pillars that can support way more than just one column. It’s not just in art that they understand it; it’s in the concepts they learn on the field, in the classroom, and in the playroom.
They knew that the sinking shafts were George III and that greed destroys and hurts people. They shared that people who talk all the time really don’t settle down enough to find out who they are and that those who are quietest really ought to be listened to. They were transfixed by George III’s caprice, “Why was he such a crazy?” they asked. I laughed out loud, loving every minute of it.
They also noticed that the other mom and I wore the same earrings; that “stand fast” didn’t make any sense and they thought it was a mistake, so I explained “fast” drawing the comparison of how we fasten a seat belt when we get in the car and then another kid went off on how fast his car is in Mario Cart and he started zooming around the world on his carpet square.
You can’t win ’em all.
The point is yeah: Brown is right. Who we are matters more than what we know. We could know all there is about … agriculture. If we don’t do anything with that knowledge, if we don’t share it, if we don’t let that seep into our beings, then it means nothing.
Those kids know that poem and what it represents, but they know themselves more.
Here’s me: I know that lying is wrong, that deflecting accountability, rejecting vulnerability, and not learning anything from a challenging situation allows me to continue feeling like a victim. It also creates a climate where that situation can continually repeat itself until I get it. Not using that knowledge assures me that I will stay exactly where I am attracting the same situations and the same people and the same outcomes.
If I choose to NOT use that knowledge to shape my life to become a better, more conscious and more capable human being, I miss the cherry on top: I don’t grow. Sure, I still like to get mad. Sure, I still like to blame someone else. But if I don’t check myself and accept my role in a two-person situation, I’m missing the point completely. My “who I am” stays exactly where it belongs: Right Here Forever. I don’t know about you, but the last time I checked, as long as we’ve air in our lungs, we can make a change.
I also know that these are my standards. That for me to expect the same out of my own child, much less a perfect stranger is folly. I mean, who said that was a good use of my time? So I have to allow for the space of learning in my children. I have to give the benefit of a doubt in the perfect stranger. This pacing, this allowance and three-dimensional relating makes me a better Who I am.
I am feeling a limit to how much I can gild this lily of Brown’s. I hope those kiddos stand fast to their ethics as they mature. It’s nice to know they might run the country some day. On carpet squares. Heck yeah.
Way better than that crazy George III. What-what?