In 2013 I came across this video from British philosopher Alan Watts. He is best known for his writings and speaking on Zen Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity. In what starts as such a simple question, ends up as an extremely thought-provoking reflection coming back to the ‘why’ of what we do. Conceptually, Alan Watts is right on the money – we live in a world doing things we may not like doing, in order to make a living, in order to keep going on doing the things we don’t like doing.
At first I struggled to take this from concept to practice as money, whether we like it or not or agree with it, is the catalyst that drives almost all of how we live. It wasn’t until Alan Watts revealed a valuable insight about becoming ‘masters’ in what we do, so much so that we can charge a handsome fee for doing so. This follows in the same vein as Joseph Campbell’s “Follow your bliss…” quote.
What I do believe, however, is that this video’s message represents one window in which to look through. We don’t live in a world where we must choose one thing to do to enjoy or earn a living anymore. It is becoming more apparent, even common, for the last two generations entering the workforce (Gen Y & Z) to do multiple things to fulfill that implicit need for a sense of purpose.
A call centre worker by day is a share market enthusiast by night and volunteer on the weekends. A small business owner works from home at nights, is a parent by day, and manages to study at university by distance learning. Perhaps if you do feel you are lacking ‘enjoyment’ or ‘fulfillment’ where you currently find yourself, the answer may not lie in changing what you do, but expanding to what you do.
Some ideas here were first expressed by Patrick Caldwell, HR Business Partner at BHP Billiton. I’ve refined the idea using my own experience conducting seminars at elite private schools across South Africa.
For anybody who doesn’t know me I was raised by my mother in Uitenhage, South Africa – a small town near Port Elizabeth. Andrew Arries was friends with my grandparents, and later everyone just called him, Uncle. For as long as I can remember he lived with us, in the old house at the back of Sass Street.
As my grandparents died in early 1980s, I now see that Uncle was a surrogate father to my own mother and her sister Brenda, who passed away in 1995. He was the rock of ages because we could always depend on him. Even in his 80s he was more often looking after us than we did him. Always independent, he was the epitome of self reliance.
When I was about 10 years old he took me along to Sunday School at the Dutch Reformed Church. When there was no lift from Dominee Esterhuizen we walked about 6km to church without question. In 1996 I celebrated my 21st birthday and graduated from university on the same weekend. My own father could not be there, so Uncle stepped in.
The last time he visited me and my cousins in Johannesburg was in 2008 for almost three months. I remember booking his flight back to Port Elizabeth. He took time to visit and stay with everyone including my mother’s brother and sister who lived there for > 20 years. My group of cousins including Alberton and Bernice Murray took him to the OR Tambo airport on a Sunday. At the boarding gate he almost refused to leave because he was unusually emotional. It was like he was saying goodbye to all his grandchildren for the last time.
Each of us was touched by Uncle in a big or small way that lived at Sass Street. I remember him mostly for this quality: integrity. He was truly a man who led by example. An example we can only imitate now that he’s passed away. RIP Andrew Arries 1926-2014, Uncle to many and oupa to a few who’s lives he directly impacted.
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Everyone agrees education is important. Most people agree teachers are valuable. Few people know the difference between learning and teaching. Learning happens naturally when children are fully engaged. Teaching happens when teachers love what they do and share that enthusiasm with the children they teach.
After spending years lecturing at private schools across South Africa, including elite schools like Michaelhouse, I gained a new appreciation for education. As a product of the public school system in the Eastern Cape, the poorest province in South Africa, I overcame substantial obstacles to become a regular guest speaker at elite private boarding schools.
Award winning teacher, John Taylor Gatto reminds us it’s just impossible for education and schooling ever to be the same thing.
To celebrate 10 years since I started my company, NETucation, here’s my top 10 movies about teachers – some great and others not so great.
- Stand and Deliver (1988): Together, one teacher and one class proved to America they could…Stand and Deliver. The story of Jaime Escalante, a high school teacher who successfully inspired his dropout-prone students to learn calculus. John Taylor Gatto talked about this story many times in his lectures and interviews, so I had to watch it.
- Mr Holland’s Opus (1995): We are your symphony Mr. Holland. We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. We are the music of your life. A frustrated composer finds fulfilment as a high school music teacher. One of the most beautiful movies about how teachers can change lives.
- Dead Poets Society (1989): He was their inspiration. He made their lives extraordinary. English teacher John Keating inspires his students to a love of poetry and to seize the day. Carpe diem!
- Detachment (2011): A substitute teacher who drifts from classroom to classroom finds a connection to the students and teachers during his latest assignment. A powerful performance by Adrian Brody as a teacher who is broken inside.
- Dangerous Minds (1995): Louanne Johnson is an ex-marine, hired as a teacher in a high school in a poor area of the city. She has recently separated from her husband. Her friend, also a teacher in the school, got the temporary job for her. After a terrible reception from the students, she tries unconventional methods of teaching (using karate, Bob Dylan lyrics, etc) to gain the trust of the students.
- The Great Debaters (2007): A drama based on the true story of Melvin B. Tolson, a professor at Wiley College, Texas. In 1935, he inspired students to form the school’s first debating team, which went on to challenge Harvard in the national championships. Even though this is not about school, the teaching influence is primarily in inspiring the students.
- Half Nelson (2006): An inner-city junior high school teacher with a drug habit forms an unlikely friendship with one of his students after she discovers his secret. Ryan Gosling shows glimpses of what makes him a great actor.
- One Eight Seven (1997): After surviving a brutal attack (the weapon used was a board with nails in it) by a student, teacher Trevor Garfield moves from New York to Los Angeles. Samuel L. Jackson is always convincing as an authority figure.
- Freedom Writers (2007): A young teacher inspires her class of at-risk students to learn tolerance, apply themselves, and pursue education beyond high school. Some parts of this movie appeal to the sentimental part of me.
- To Sir, With Love (1967): About an idealistic engineer-trainee and his experiences in teaching a group of rambunctious white high school students from the slums of London’s East End.
Honourable mention: Rushmore (1998): The film is a personal favourite because the main character reminds me of myself. Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), a precocious and eccentric 15-year-old, who is both Rushmore’s most extracurricular and least scholarly student, and his businessman friend Herman Blume (Bill Murray) both fall in love with the same female teacher.
More than any other, I recommend you watch The Ultimate History Lesson: A Weekend with John Taylor Gatto, free on Youtube. And if you enjoy it support the Tragedy and Hope community who produced it and receive a discount using the coupon code “RAMONTHOMAS” below.