Celebrating The Power of Words
5th of October, was World Teachers’ Day.
The pandemic tested Educators world over as most had to rethink their approaches to sharing knowledge. Many were overwhelmed, others thrived while some sunk. I’m sanguine that we all resurfaced a little wiser, a little less sure of ourselves, more open to surprise and even eager to experiment.
As the efforts of teachers were brought into sharp focus, whole communities were pushed to innovate around learning in an unpredictable environment. Parents adapted living rooms, kitchens, lounges and bedrooms into classrooms. We accepted that learning can happen beyond the confines of white-washed walls: with efficient preparation and collaboration. Learning is like a good game of tennis, where the ball is swung back and forth across court with an aim to keep it in air. But the point is to have the most fun while doing it: whether you win or lose.
While celebrations are grand opportunities for the community to appreciate the efforts of it’s best workers they provide great vistas for reflecting on one’s professional gains.
For teachers it may mean allowing ourselves to own the contribution we make, to understand the ethics that direct our work and to embrace values that can help us be influential in our vocation and virtuous in our conduct.
Oaths: Principles, Promises, and Affirmations
Lawyers affirm support for their respective constitutions, doctors swear by the Hippocratic Oath, and the Clergy take vows of office.
Taking an oath is a public commitment to live the principles, promises and affirmations within the oath. Public affirmations rouse us to the sacredness of our duties and the consequences of commitment.
Instant communication has made words casual. Rather than useful tools for conveying intent, they become easy outlets for boredom on our online communities and forums. The veil of anonymity shields us from responsibility. Words, therefore, can be spoken minus concern for their ultimate effect on listeners and readers.
Absent technology, we may misuse words in the form of idle banter: to pass time. I’m not an exception to this. And I get it. Words can be sometimes used to fill the awkward gaps of everyday social interaction. It’s impractical to always engage in meaningful existential questions with every human you meet. It matters less to me if the shoe-shiner shares the same beliefs I have about the mysteries of spiritual realities, the complexity of sexual orientations or my thoughts on political games.
Though we may flit over the surface of such sensitive topics my desire to reflect on the conversation ends when the service is over. We tolerate each other’s talk as a discharge of formality: an act of politeness necessitated by societal mores for which there’s no harm. None of us harbors mutual expectations on how to behave or what to believe after we part ways.
But for environments where the value of our words is wont to be taken with much gravity, it pays well to be paying attention to the delivery, the choice and the intended effect of our words on an audience.
For teachers it means learning to “keep our word”.
Keeping Your Word
Imagine a country where half the doctors act as they please; where judges disregard the claims of the Constitution; where the Clergy treats sacred vows like market-place conversations in which absolutes are absurd and bargains venerated.
When the sacredness of words, spoken and written is not taken into account, we degenerate into a society of broken promises, online rants, and inciting comments especially during significant moments in a nation’s history: like national elections.
When leaders preach promises to citizens, in a frenzy of excitement, without committed action, the unintended effect of the words is distrust. A population fast learns to treat the speech of office bearers with insouciance. The citizenry is, unwittingly, taught not to listen.
When honor is not practiced in matters that concern the well-being of citizens, seeds for future disregard for authority are planted. Because words are the bridges that connect us to each other, abusing the power of words to serve selfish ends exposes us to the inevitable crises that attend violations of trust.
Nowhere else is this lesson more apt than the classroom.
After mothers, teachers serve as the first point of societal integration to children. The teacher’s word is law. So much that children’s trust in what-teacher-said is appealing. While others may dismiss this unquestioning confidence as naïve, adults model this kind of dependent faith with people to whom they have delegated leadership and authority.
This of deference to wise authority is a flower that’s best nurtured at birth, nourished in teenage and encouraged in adulthood.
But this can only be ingrained during those early years of contact with authority outside the home.
The Socratic Oath
While googling the beginnings of World Teachers’ Day, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there indeed exists a Teacher’s Oath.
On the surface, oaths can sound restrictive; on the contrary, they allow for a freedom of action that spurs creativity, emboldens our hunches and gives us the courage to live as agents in a world that entices us to passive observation.
The Socratic Oath is to teachers what the Hippocratic Oath is to doctors. When we utter the words of an oath, we invite accountability. We allow ourselves to be subject to the power of something higher and better: something outside us that’s not liable to the ever-changing whims of our biases and subjective reasoning.
Vows, whether public or private, inspire us to raise the standards of trust within ourselves and with the people around us. In doing so, we open ourselves to the risk of criticism and correction but with an aim to help us improve and be better.
When we keep promises to ourselves, and to people around us, even though we may not always feel like it, we learn to act as principled and rational agents in a world where irrational action rules the feeble and the entitled.
It is indeed the mark of intelligent existence to act despite prevailing circumstances. This kind of committed action restores the bridge of trust in private fellowship and public communion.
Like apples of gold in pictures of silver, promises kept are a powerful resource for healing ourselves and the world.