The Great War Is Over

K and I have been friends for … goodness, almost 30 years now!  We met in our first-ever college class, a seminar about World War I, and despite the miles that separate us and the vastly different paths we’ve taken, the friendship has endured.  That first Veterans’ Day we all knew each other, K “just happened” to send everyone in the class a flower (a poppy, most likely, if one was available) with a note about the end of the Great War.

All these years later, one of us still wishes the other Happy Armistice Day, usually by Facebook or email, around 11:00 in our time zone.  And the other usually responds, “The Great War is over!”

And then I usually spend some time thinking about relatives, friends, and former students who served in the military … and especially about those who paid the ultimate price, who aren’t here to be celebrated and honored on this day of remembrance.

When I heard from K this morning, moments before I was going to send the traditional message, I sent that traditional response … and as I sent it, I thought about a different, more metaphorical war that’s now over.  It was a war with myself that I fought for the past several years as I tried to build joyful learning communities “on the inside,” in an institution with very different priorities for the use of time and space and a very different definition of learning.  I wouldn’t want to dramatize it as a great war, and I wouldn’t want to compare it with the real wars and the real scars they leave on those who serve in them.  But there was still a struggle, and I’m grateful that it’s over … but if it hadn’t been for the struggle, I’m not sure I would be writing these words today.

One thing about a struggle or conflict is that it tends to pierce the airtight stories and views we otherwise hold dear.  As K, our friends, and I learned all those years ago, most of the airtight stories of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe perished in the trenches of World War I.  Here in America, many equivalent airtight stories had perished five decades earlier on the bloody Civil War battlefields.  Combat veterans I know tell me that combat changed them in ways they can’t begin to describe … and one change they mention, over and over again, is the shattering of simple illusions and straightforward world views they’d held before.

Compared with their lives, mine has been utterly sheltered.  A few setbacks and struggles, of course; some family- and institution-sized conflicts; a few moments of fear; lots of joy; and day after day of peaceful Same Old Same Old.  But even my relatively small conflicts have done a good job of piercing the airtight stories I once accepted without question.  I thought about that as I read Mark’s Google+ comment yesterday:

Individuals are not born to be airtight thinkers. Some develop over time into something as airtight as a basketball but fixed minded in such a way that they resemble a concrete block.

It is institutions and old worn out processes (rituals) these institutions cling to that lead to and perpetuate this airtight thinking.

You can compare large younger companies like Google to other large and older companies that are run much like factory schools to see how this works.

Being under the influence of these old and dying institutions causes fixed mindset thinking. The Rx for this breathing problem is to remove one’s self from the airtight environment.

It’s tempting to cling to those “old worn out processes (rituals)” and the institutions that embody them!  I spent a few painful years trying to cling but change, and while tempting, it was also exhausting.  Along the way, I found myself feeling breathless and hardened, just like the basketball and concrete block in Mark’s amazing metaphor.

And then, all of a sudden, everything changed … or was it really all of a sudden?  And did everything change?  In any case, the opportunity to build the Latin Family at District Q, District Y, and Gifted Homeschoolers Forum came along, and it was time to seize the opportunity.  Did the conflict end?  Or did I just walk away from a conflict in which I no longer cared to participate?  Either way, I could suddenly breathe again, both literally and metaphorically … and places where I’d felt physically and emotionally hardened for years seemed to soften.

That doesn’ t mean that every struggle is over, of course.  The various branches of the Latin Family at District Q and District Y are still human, and they still exist within a (somewhat) factory-model context.  So there are still struggles to build and sustain community, questions of how and when to intervene in conflicts, hard messages to send and receive.  But the struggles don’t seem as overwhelming as they did a year or two ago.  On this day of remembrance, as I pause to remember and be grateful for so many who gave so much, I’m hoping the spirit of joyful community will be a legacy to all of them.  I wonder what new discoveries and insights await us all today!

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Published in: on November 11, 2014 at 4:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

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