Being and Doing Joyful Community

The Monday Evening Book Group has reached chapter 7 of Thomas Merton’s No Man Is an Island, which is all about being and doing.  It looks like a short, simple section of the book, with a few key ideas that Merton develops from several angles.  But our conversation was rich as we kept returning to the notion that who you are is reflected it, but not defined bywhat you do … and to the other key themes of taking time to be still and embracing, not rejecting, our incompleteness and imperfection.  Of finding the right balance – different for everyone – between work and rest.

It’s clear that all five current members of the group really needed Merton’s Wisdom this fall.  As I look back over blog posts from the past several months, I can see my own struggles with being and doing, with taking time, with joyfully embracing imperfection, with finding balance in so many areas.  All of us – even “those bad, lazy kids,” Ms. X, Mr. Y, and Powers That Be – are at different places on that journey, and somehow, this year, it’s been easier for more of us, more of the time, to remember that and be gentle with each other.  Maybe that’s why it’s been easier to be – and to do – a joyful learning community than it was in prior years.

But being gentle doesn’t mean putting up with intolerable stuff, or with stuff that’s annoying and distracting to the larger community.  So D, T, B, and the others who were distracting themselves and distracting each other with their favorite technological tools won’t be using them as much today, and I’ve already spoken with D, D, and C, who were distracting themselves and others with a loud conversation on Friday.  Ms. X would be storming and threatening, maybe even yelling about “making me look bad” or “bad, lazy, and disrespectful” – but we’ll be talking about how all kinds of tools can be either helpful or distracting, and about the importance of managing yourself and thinking about others.  We may also talk, as we sometimes do, about how nobody can see your heart and intentions, but everyone can see and hear your words and actions.

The upper-level class, who have been practicing grammatical forms by making and choosing specified forms, then discovering and talking about the famous Latin proverb we made (if we made everything correctly), will be making a variation on one of my favorites: acta, non verba.  But we’ll deepen the conversation, I suspect, by talking about how both actions and words are only a partial mirror of thoughts and intentions.  Unlike the Tres Columnae Project characters whose thoughts, words, actions, and feelings we can analyze pretty well – thanks to a narrator who usually describes feelings and often quotes characters’ thoughts – we can’t see inside each other!  We can look, listen, and assume … but when we assume, it’s important to remember we could be entirely mistaken.  Ms. X might look at D playing with his phone, hear D, D, and C talking about The Game, and assume bad, lazy, and disrespectful … but they, in turn, can look at her blithely “covering” concepts that seem completely pointless – and quite possibly doing the very same things she just scolded them for doing – and make their own assumptions.

To bejoyful learning community, you have to start somewhere, and one place to start is by doing the things that joyful learning communities do.  But you can’t stop there, can’t just assume that the actions and words will “automagically” translate themselves into thoughts, feelings, or beliefs.  Like my friends and me in the Book Group, which has become a joyful learning community itself, we builders of joyful communities have to find an excellent, but imperfect and constantly changing balance between being and doingwork and restsupport and challenge.  It’s hard, complex work – but it’s so much easier than the constant factory treadmill of yelling and labeling, pain and punishment, testing and retesting, rinse and repeat.

I wonder what new steps, what new forms of graceful or not-so-graceful balance, await us all today!

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Published in: on November 12, 2013 at 11:31 am  Leave a Comment  

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