There are 29 Knuts in every Sickle (and only one in every Topic)
I sat down this morning and thought, “I’m going to write a short, pithy blog entry to apologise for being absent for so long. Work and family responsibilities have kept me away from my keyboard. Then I read Verse 29 of the Tao Te Ching. Perhaps I’m high on sleep deprivation, but it struck me as meltingly beautiful. So I suspect that this may end up meandering on for a while. If you bear with me, you are very kind; if you walk away with your eyes rolling, you are quite right. My loquacity is mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
Anyway, to enable to help you decide for yourself whether or not it is indeed a thing of beauty or a reflection on my low criteria, here is Verse 29 (hopefully Ursula Leguin will not mind me stealing her work and putting it out there):
Those who think to win the world
by doing something to it,
I see them come to grief.
For the world is a sacred object.
Nothing is to be done to it.
To do anything to it is to damage it.
To seize it is to lose it.
Under heaven, some things lead, some follow,
some blow hot, some cold,
some are strong, some weak,
some are fulfilled, some fail.
So the wise soul keeps away
from the extremes, excess, extravagance.
[Exits, pursued by an Ursula]
Do you think you can take over the universe and improve it? Perhaps by taking language and stripping it down to some highly efficient rules (with a myriad of exceptions)? Perhaps by trying to make people learn a language by memorising these rules rather than just having something to say and a need to say it? Lao sees you come to some grief. Ah. The Tao of Organised Crime.
Language is a sacred object. For the more secular among you, remember that sacred is also synonymous with inviolable. Language cannot be changed by willful action; it will change itself. When we meddle with it, we damage it. (Gr8!) When we try to boil it down to easily (!) assimilated rules, we lose its very essence.
Once again, LT’s word to the wise is “Hold back. Don’t meddle. Let things be.” And accept that not everything is going to go well. We come back to the defining dichotomies. Things are defined as much by what they are not as by what they are. This is a concept that children have difficulties with in their early years. Who among us, who I say, has not been in a car where all the travellers bar one have chimed, “It’s not a horse, it’s a cow!” Only to hear the Galileo-in-nappies mutter softly, “Equus est.”
Teaching can never be a constant ecstasy (unless you’re a chemistry teacher); there will never be a moment when everything goes right all of the time; there will never be a class that is always a joy to teach. The days of rapture are rarely found in a staffroom. And when things go wrong, it is not you; it is the way of heaven. Try to change it and come to grief, pal, knowwhatImsaying?
Avoid extremes – they will lead to grief; moderation is better for your waistline, your heart and your sanity. Extremes for the language teacher might include anything that can be served to label you. Even a dogme teacher can run foul of tao.
Avoid excesses – don’t stuff your lessons too full of stuff; don’t stuff your learners too full of stuff; don’t stuff your teaching too full of stuff. Embrace the poor pedagogies! Stuff stifles.
Avoid extravagance. Apparently, extravagance comes from a Latin expression which means to diverge widely. Does Tao say that you have to tread the well-worn paths? Is it about conforming? Of course not, my little chickens. Remember, the path you walk is the path you make. Don’t stray too far from your path. You’ve gotta go where you want to go, do what you what to do, with who(m)ever, you want to do it to. Remember, Red Riding Hood, Do NOT Leave The Path. Or you will come to grief.
Here endeth the lesson.
Thanks be to God.