Nothing really matters to me
This is what I was trying to say when I paraphrased SIX.
In my interpretation of this chapter, I went back to the first thing we were told about Tao – it can’t be described; it lies beyond all conceptual thinking. The moment you begin to use words to describe it, you are doomed. Words can only ever come close, but will always fall short. The American poet Jack Gilbert (a recent discovery for me) put it this way
How astonishing it is that language can almost mean and frightening that it does not quite.
I think Degas was also getting close to the truth when he admitted that art was not a reproduction of what was in front of the artist, but a prompt that would allow other people to imagine what was there. Our art, our language, only ever allows us to represent, never to reproduce.
Humans are driven by a need to understand and to conceptualise. We need to find out if there is life on Mars; we hate poems that seem to bar our understanding; it is important to us that we understand how the word works. And in language education, that means trying to understand how people learn languages and trying to understand what makes people learn and what makes people teach well.
Tao says that whatever understanding we reach is going to be a pretence. It’s not real. Whatever makes things the ways they are will always be beyond our understanding. The dangers come when people reach this flawed understanding and then work tirelessly to ensure that the world conforms to their perspective. This gives rise to the words should and must. These words form the bedrock of a lot of misery in this world.
Instead, says Lao Tse (and me, in my poor imitation), accept your limitations. Things are the way they are because, given everything that led to them being the way they are, they could be no other way. There’s no point tearing your hair out about things happening that shouldn’t be happening or students doing things that they simply mustn’t do. Things happened that made these things happen or made the students do what they do. How else could it be?
Do we roll over and accept whatever? Is Lao saying that some of the discipline problems that educators face should just be accepted? Not quite. Lao is saying that if those problems arise, the educators who do accept them are doing so for reasons beyond their control. The educators who decide to brook no nonsense and enforce strict discipline and high expectations are also doing so for reasons beyond their control. There are reasons why you are reading this bilge! There are reasons why some people aren’t and wouldn’t even if you threatened to burn down their house with all that they loved locked inside.
It’s not so much about passive acceptance as it is about not being emotionally disturbed by what is going on. Understand that what goes on has its reasons and then react as you believe is appropriate (which is what you’re going to do anyway). Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your reaction is the only right one and the “natural” one. It won’t be. Don’t lose sleep over the world not conforming to your beliefs; not one of your beliefs is actually real.
Don’t presume that one day science will unveil the correct way of teaching and learning. It won’t. It can’t. Don’t doubt your way of teaching (or learning). It is the way that it is and it has reasons for being the way that it is. If you are inclined to look for ways of improving it, do so without lamenting how lamentable you are. That’s just the stage that you are at in your teaching and it could be no other way. Don’t get emotionally disturbed by the ways of your learners. They could be no other way. Don’t get frustrated by your lack of understanding, it could be no other way. I feel that this is the time to use an et cetera.
What is to be gained by taking this approach? Well, you’d be living much more in accordance with the Tao – with the way that the universe works and this is the path to a life free from stress and suffering.Sure, you won’t know how the brain stores language or what the secret to pain-free language acquisition is. But you might die smiling.