How do people inspire themselves? This question is highlighted in the Academy Award- nominated film Invictus. In one memorable scene, Morgan Freeman, portraying Nelson Mandela, talks to rugby star Francois Pienaar, describing his vision of unifying the country. Mandela tells Pienaar, “We must all exceed our own expectations!”
Of course, parents so often feel like they are asked to exceed their own limits. A friend of mine said recently that as a child he learned to eat everything on his plate. He grew up to view fulfilling his responsibilities the same way. He tries to take care of everything “on his plate,” but he has discovered that approaching life that way leaves him no time for reflection or just being. When people don’t have time for thoughtful moments, it’s difficult to maintain the sense that what they do matters. When Mandela referred to “exceeding our expectations,” I don’t think he was talking about multi-tasking but consciously giving one’s all in the moment. How can any of us do that without inspiration? Adults and children thrive on reminders that what they do makes a difference.
Providing inspiration for our students is one of the core purposes of our school. Last November I observed as a fifth-grade boy spoke with a reporter about participating in the Meher Schools Children’s Chorus. He explained that the chorus concentrates on the meaning of the songs they sing. He repeated one point: that the songs raise questions about the meaning of life and the purpose of being on earth. His inspiration was palpable, and these ideas came across with clarity in a December 2 Contra Costa Times article entitled “Serving by Singing.” In our classes, focusing on what inspires children is a consistent endeavor. However, I am equally interested in what helps parents stay excited about the important roles they play in their children’s lives.
In times past, parents looked to experts like Dr. Spock or Haim Ginott to inspire them with new ways to relate to children. Today parents who go online or read widely about childrearing can glean insights but also easily feel overwhelmed. One key to finding the golden nuggets is noticing how something we hear or read makes us feel. Words or images that suddenly broaden our perspective like the shutter on a camera opening wide offer us a sense of what resonates with us.
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When I find written lines that touch me as a teacher or a grandparent, I write them down so I can reread them. I save quotes like Mahatma Gandhi’s famous words “You have to be the change you want to see in the world!” They give me a glimpse of possibilities. I often write down thoughts that parents or teachers express because our dialogue about developing a new kind of knowing feels so valuable. This awakening to possibilities often happens in parent workshops. We join together and discover we are asking the same questions and looking for fresh answers.
Taking time to write down our own thoughts in a journal, or in a letter we might give to our child in the future, allows us to manifest the meaning in our lives. It has a different quality than just checking things off our “to do” list.
One aspect of life parents and teachers share is that the main sources of our inspiration is our children, who touch us every day with their struggles to grow and their earnestness and sincerity. When I think about the 11-year-old who talked to the reporter, I am struck by how much a fifth-grader valued a group of children in the choir working together to understand the meaning behind the songs they sing. Our children pull us forward, and it’s up to us to keep up with their inspiring vision.
Susan Isaacs Kohl, is director of the White Pony preschool in Lafayette. She is the author of The Best Things Parents Do (Conari 2004) and four other books and numerous articles for parents.