Tuesday, July 04, 2006
ON TEACHING: "Praise and Grace"
The current thinking in educational circles is that praise should be offered only as a reward for certain specific behaviors, but it’s interesting to me that that’s not really how life works. I can receive “praise” in the form of happy, uplifting, and healing thoughts at any time and in any situation, no matter what my behavior has been. I can make the most egregious mistake and in the next instant, if I quiet myself down, I can receive a miraculous influx of healing, reassuring thoughts – thoughts that could easily be called “praise”. A thought might arise and say, “You’re okay, Ham. You made a mistake, but you will learn from it and it will actually make you an even better person.” This is praise of the best kind, and yet it comes to me when I seemingly don’t deserve it. It comes unbidden and apparently unmerited, rising out of some vast well-spring of praise that seems to exist in this universe. Spiritually-minded people would call this kind of praise “grace”, and to them it’s the most powerful force in the cosmos. It’s the gift that comes to us when we need it most – when we’re discouraged, defeated, or when we have simply behaved badly. In fact, grace comes in its strongest form precisely when we have been at our worst. In the depths of sorrow or despondency, we can suddenly feel loved, appreciated, strong, and confident. We can feel praised -- through the infinite power of grace. Perhaps, in my teaching, I need to offer praise the way the universe offers grace. My students don’t need praise just when they do something well. They need it, in fact, most vitally when they do something poorly, because it is then that they ought to be reminded of their basic, irreproachable goodness. My praise should be like a spring of fresh water, always bubbling up for my students, no matter the circumstances might be.