44 – The number of derangements of five articles. Crazy, huh?
Hmmm. If you read the opening stanza to Chapter 44 in a Clint Eastwood growl, it works surprisingly well:
Fame or self: which matters more?
Self or wealth: which is more precious?
Gain or loss: which is more painful?
Ursula Leguin’s translation of the TTC is virtually the same as Feng and English’s but has an intriguing difference. She has chosen to translate the opening line as
Which is nearer:
Name or self?
A fascinating question. Aren’t they one and the same? Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? (Recalling my unvoiced question as I ate my tea last night, if I didn’t know that this was Quorn, would this curry taste any differently?). Bear with me, dear reader. What else is there to do?
Is there a difference between the Teacher You and the Non-Teacher You? Why (not)? If, like me, you adopt a teacher persona upon entering the classroom – or even the place of work, how does this teacher differ from “the real you”? If you were forced to choose between “the real you” and this teacher person, who would you choose (and be honest)?
I would not hesitate. I choose me. “The real me” is better than my teacher persona. So, I’m only prepared to give my students second best? Hmmm.
But Lao isn’t really asking about this. He’s asking whether we prize our reputation above our selves. Do we sacrifice our lives for our jobs? Are you one of those teachers who works unspeakable hours in order to shore up your hard-earned reputation as a devotee? When you’re not marking or preparing a class, are you brushing up on research and current debates because other people expect it of you? If so, beware:
All you grasp will be thrown away.
All you hoard will be utterly lost.
Utterly? Bloody hell! Lao knew how to drive the point home. It’s not just material things that are subject to the tosses and turns of the tempest of life. Everything is temporary. The good reputation that we have built up may mean nothing to the new teacher who starts at our school some twenty years after us. The hours spent marking are wasted when te student just puts the work in her file and never looks at it again. Studying all the research in the world is unlikely to help you ever discover the key to it all.
Contentment keeps disgrace away says Leguin. A contented man [sic] will never suffer say Feng and English. Be content with what you have glosses the rather interesting looking Social Grafiti blog. Being satisfied with little is to stop misfortune says Daniel Medvedov’s Tao Te Ching over at Scribd. Check out Daniel’s artwork. My favourite of all is Leguin’s. Contentment keeps disgrace away. This could refer to the contentment of the teacher who accepts that very little is needed in the language classroom to make it work. It could also refer to the fact that a happy teacher is likely to result in happy students. It might even be a pointer to remind us that it doesn’t really matter what we do in class; as long as our students are happy, they will learn. Michelle Shocked wrote a song called The Secret to a Long Life (is Knowing When It’s Time to Go) and this is how this chapter of the TTC ends (with gender-specific language changed): Those who know when to stop do not find themselves in trouble./ They will stay forever safe. It’s the kind of thing I need to write on our biscuit jar.