When Two Selves Go Walking, Make Sure the Ego Isn’t the One Doing the Talking
The other day I was doing a workshop for a group of people who are trying to improve themselves as teachers of Baha’i children’s classes. They knew that I had a certain amount of competence in how to teach games so they invited me to share my expertise.
I almost always start all of my workshops or talks, regardless of the topic, with a simple, but extremely profound frame around which everything else seems to revolve. The frame is that human beings are dual-natured in that we have an ego, which is our more selfish, materially oriented side, and we have a true self which is the positive one filled with all kinds of positive capacities and spiritual attributes that do a lot of positive in the world.
Anyway, in doing the games workshop as in doing games that teach trust, cooperation, perception, determination, etc., I told the group that when children or youth or adults come to a game, they always bring two selves, the ego and the true self. Any lesson plan or curriculum guide that you read in almost any book will give you the information about what part of the true self the game is attempting to develop. However, no one really writes lesson plans for the ego unless you are a terrorist, a politician. or a CEO.
The ego is run on the engine of negative emotions. Its over-arching feeling is fear and the greatest fear that people have is the fear of being excluded. This is because the core value of all humanity is inclusion and participation. When I introduce an activity to a group of 5-6 year olds that requires attention and cooperation, I almost always get one or two children who want to steal the attention off of the activity and onto themselves. It is as if they say, “Look at me, I’m so funny.” In the meantime, they have managed to make a train wreck out of an activity designed to push the true self to new levels. So what are they responding to when they do this?
At some level they are feeling the fear that they could be excluded if they don’t do well so their coping mechanism is to get an overwhelming amount of inappropriate, undue attention so that they feel included for a short time. It can be really annoying to be doing a lesson and have a 5 year take over with his own agenda, but as a teacher I have to say to myself that it is just his ego, he is feeling some fear, and that his true self really wants to to do the activity properly. There are a number of options that I could with a child feeling this fear and then trying to steal attention, but the first and most important thing is to recognize that it is the ego that has entered the class when I was hoping to develop the true self’s ability to cooperate.
What is really interesting is that I may have another child in the same class who has the same fear, but instead of acting with attention seeking, acts with reluctance, refusing to participate. Both children have the same problem in that both bring the fear of exclusion because they may not achieve well in the class. Now if I use the formula discipline approach to teaching, I am probably going to miss developing the true self, the virtue of cooperation, so the first thing I do is remind myself that the goal is cooperation. I can easily slip into anger and impatience especially when the formula discipline doesn’t work. I remind myself that I can keep a loving and connected relationship to the child even when they are messing up my perfect lesson plan and still deal with the ego.
If my class has a performance in front of large group where they have to sing and dance on the same day as my lesson, I just know that they will be under so much stress to do well that any attempt on my part to teach a normal class on that day is going to be an exercise in frustration so I can just simply take the pressure off and do some low stress fun things that don’t require a lot of attention. Their egos have already been put through the ringer so I don’t need to do more.
If I know the goal of the true self, such as developing courage through climbing, then I know also that there is going to be pressure from the ego in the form of fear. My job as a teacher is to see how far I can push the fear so that more courage is developed. At some point the fear is just going to be too much and then I know I can back off, but sometimes when the reluctance is more at the beginning, then I know I can really push the fear really hard.
I had a little boy come to my class this year who at home was waited on by more than one nanny, had never been outdoors to do a single bit of exercise, and was frightened to death of dropping six inches to the ground when handing from a bar. I knew that his ego was trying to get me to free him from the possibility of suffering any type of pain whatsoever. He wanted me to hold him so that he could drop the six inches with my help, so he just wouldn’t let go. He cried and cried and held on for a long time. Fortunately for the child’s ego, i was much more stubborn than him. After awhile he dropped. He was so mad at me, but the next day he came to class with a lot more energy and enthusiasm to try new things. I knew that his true self wanted to be more courageous, but the way he was being raised at home was causing him to be extremely fearful.
So the key that I am trying communicate here is that the thing that is stopping the child from developing all of his capacities is the ego. Sometimes the ego can just be ignored, sometimes it takes a slight intervention, and sometimes it requires being really strict. But as soon as the true self is fully engaged in an environment where it is being challenged and learning, it just gets wildly enthusiastic in anticipation of the next activity. And when you as the teacher name the true self as it is developing the capacity and are smiling and happy about its progress, then the children feel validated about what they are doing. If you are trying to develop a strong kick in the swimming pool, the children are going to need a lot of determination. They are going to get tired and want to quit because of the pain. So when they push through the pain and do a lot of work, they feel validated when you name it. I can say to my class that I really pushed them because I wanted to see them get strong, and I could see that they really are much stronger.
If you push children too far beyond their stretching point, then they are responding to your ego which is your fear that they won’t achieve. When that happens, they won’t be able to find the drive of their own true self because they will only be interested in things like recognition and power which is really what the teacher is teaching.
So, in whatever activity you are doing or guiding you can be aware that there are always two selves there, the ego and the true self.