It’s dawn.  The sky is greying with the coming day’s light.  I just 
came in from slowly sipping a cup of freshly brewed coffee by the koi pond.  As 
I gazed at the barely visible graceful sweeping moves of the koi and listened 
to the music of the waterfalls, I thought of the urgent beckoning by the pond.  
“In the morning, – solitude,” Emerson said, “nature may speak to the 
imagination, as she does never in company.”  To lose that silence, to lose that 
ability to keep quiet company with yourself, to fail to be a guest in your own 
heart, to fail to be more that a passing tourist in life, is such a tragic loss 
of the opportunity to develop the ability to think and feel honestly.  Without 
a time and place carved out for personal reflection, our authenticity is 
challenged; we can so easily get swept up and away by the crowd; we can so 
quickly lose our uniqueness and individuality; we can so completely surrender 
to numbing “what everyone does and believes” uniformity and conformity; we can 
so fail to find the calmness among people and circumstance that we find in 
being alone.   

        These last four months or so, when I was uncharacteristically off the 
grid, have taught me that life is constant improvisation, for, as Robert Burns 
rightly wrote,  “the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/Gang aft a-gley.”  I was 
dramatically reminded  that each day is a time filled with the unexpected, that 
the only certainty in life is its uncertainties.  I was taught there isn't a 
moment that is not an exploration into the unknown with uncertain outcomes.  
Nevertheless, as Rumi says, “Wherever you are, be fully present there.”   He 
means that we can’t be that passing tourist in life in general or anywhere we 
are or in whatever we’re doing.  Instead, we dauntlessly have to show up and 
keep showing up.  We have to be intensely mindful; we have to be fiercely 
aware, alert, attentive, and alive; we have to have a profound sense of 
otherness and of nurturing others.  We have to constantly tap into that inner 
authenticity through thick and thin.  There’s no way around it.  To do that, 
however, is a high order of skill that takes constant practice to reach, a lot 
of constant and conscious practice.  That’s why, whether I’m standing by the 
pond or walking the streets, I love this graying time as a time of deep 
listening.   It’s so important, for it offers the opportunity to transform 
inattentive thoughtlessness into conscious thoughtfulness; for me, it readies 
me, emotionally and mentally, for every moment to engage fully and joyfully 
with every step and breath into whatever this day may bring.  It brings a daily 
understanding that as Thich Nhat Hanh said, the real miracle is not walking on 
the surface of the water; it is walking the earth and relishing in the mirales 
that are everything and everyone.

        These past four months I been thinking a lot of how this is all so easy 
to do during the “up” times of life, when things are bountiful, when they are 
good, when they go your way.   But, the real challenge is to hold your own when 
things turn “down.”  These last four months have been a test to see how 
committed I am to living Rumi’s words.  I’ll just say that I and Susie have 
been distracted, redirected and challenged by a roller coaster of family 
celebration and near family tragedy:  the joyous week-long Bar Mitzvah 
celebration of my California grandmunchkin, Nina;  the happy days of wine 
sipping in Carmel Valley with Susie and my sister;  staying for another week of 
California grandmunchkin spoiling; returning to Valdosta only to be almost 
immediately greeted with the blood curdling news of the near-fatal bicycle 
accident of Nina’s older teenage sister, Natalie that almost took her from us; 
the two weeks—the toughest two weeks of our lives—of fear, crying, anger, 
cursing, emotional exhaustion as Natalie lay in Stanford’s pediatric ICU with 
severe brain trauma, broken wrist and back, and severe internal injuries; the 
waiting for news during several life-saving surgeries;  the exhilaration and 
wonderment of her slow but miraculous near-total recovery; two weeks of 
returning to California to support Natalie, to help to take the load off her 
exhausted parents, and to help them back into the normality of their lives; the 
joy of playing tourist for the 13th coming-of-age birthday celebration of my 
Nashville grandmunchkin, Jackie;  dealing with the constant agony of Susie’s 
torn achilles tendon, and facing the prospect of  surgery and a long recovery 
period; enduring painful physical therapy to avoid surgery on my rotator cuff 
that was torn during a stupid fall in Monterey; and the joyous preparation for 
celebrating the 51st anniversary of my love fest with Susie in a couple of 
weeks.  Yeah, the last four months or so have been filled with lots of what 
Dickens would call the best of times and worst of times.   And, let me tell you 
what pulled and still pulls me up in those worst of times and lifts me higher 
in those best of times, what has given me the strength to withstand for better 
or worse.  Richness!  Inner richness!  The inner richness of a loving wfie, a 
loving family, loving friends, and having a sense of meaning and purpose to my 
life—no matter what.  What steadied me in those worst of time, when I was 
sorely tested and wavered, was gratitude, that constant revelation of how 
blessed I felt my life was.  

        Does, this have anything to do with the classroom?  Sure it does, for  
life in the classroom is but a microcosm of life’s macrocosm.  The ultimate 
“upper” or “downer” in the classroom is mood.  It’s not what too many of us 
solely concentrate on:  information, method or technique, and technology.  No, 
it’s feeling, emotion, attitude, mood.  I recently read an article by Paul Piff 
and Dacher Keltner, social psychologists at UC-Berkley.  A while back, they 
published the unexpected results of a study that demonstrated the pernicious 
psychological effects of wealth and income disparity, that there was an 
apparent link between wealth and unseemly behavior; that wealth comes with a 
set of values that are something less than communal; that the wealthy feel 
entitled with a deservedness for having “made it;”  that the wealth creates a 
new privileged aristocracy or meritocracy.  I went back to Piff’s sobering TED 
talk from four years ago and read some of his writings.  

        They got me to wondering.  Recalling all the bemoaning and frustrations 
I’ve heard and read over the years cynicism about all but the “good” students:  
“They’re letting anyone in.”  “They don’t belong.”  “I’m here to ‘profess,’ not 
teach!” “We’re diluting the value of an education.”  “It’s just plain dumbing 
down.” I don’t have the time for them.”  “I’ve got more important things to 
do.”  “I’ve got to meet a deadline.”  “I don’t have tenure.”  I wondered if all 
those silent and expressed nasty barbs, sarcastic comments, negatives, lack of 
appreciation,  the eye rolling sighs, complaints, criticism, finger-pointing, 
put-downs, demeanings elevate our mood in the classroom?  Once again, that 
question has gotten me to wonder if Piff’s and Keltner’s findings could be 
extrapolated to an equally corrosive academia, to the proverbial “wealth of 
knowledge,” to an attitude of having academically “made it" shown by degree, 
title, position, tenure, grants, research, and publication.  Would this 
negative mood towards teaching in general and to the “average” students in 
particular whittle away a professor’s energy little by little?  Would a habit 
of naysaying, adding up one small negative behavior, one snide comment, one 
demeaning thought, one denigrating feeling at a time until they become weighty 
chains on our attitude and hence our performance?  I mean, honestly, ask 
yourself:  “How much do I really know about each student?”  “How 
unconditionally supporting and encouraging am I for each student?”  “How much 
to do notice each student?”  “How much to I listen to each student?” “How 
empathetic am I?”  “What is it like to talk with me?”  “How easy is it to meet 
with me?”  “How easy is it to ask for help from me?”  “Does my attitude hold me 
back or give me a shove?”  “Do I constantly complain?”  

        Now, in one of the last responses to my Random Thoughts,  I had been 
accused of being an “academic wrecking ball,” that talk of faith, hope, and 
love in the classroom  ”and this constant harping on teaching is silly, 
dangerous, and beyond stupid.”  No they’re not.  They set the chain-breaking, 
positive mood for both you and each student.  They neutralize naysaying with an 
unconditional enveloping lovingkindness.  They’re attitudes and actions that I 
have found is what transforms in our eyes, and the eyes of each student, an 
“awful student” into an “awe-full” person, and an “awful” classroom situation 
into an “awe-full” one.  I will assert without reservation or hesitation or 
equivocation that being a classroom teacher in higher education does not—I 
repeat, does not—damn a person’s academic soul!  Focusing on classroom teaching 
instead of research and publication doesn’t place you in academic moral danger. 
 It doesn’t corrupt; it doesn’t harm your character; it doesn’t warp your 

         So, I ask, in the spirit of Piff’s and Keltner’s findings, and if 
we’re honest, I’d ask us to ponder this:  are the more academically renown more 
or less empathetic and compassionate towards each and every student?  Are they 
more likely to be engaged with or disengaged from each student?  Are they 
better or worse at reading each student’s emotions?  Does all that drive to 
secure grants, to research, to publish, to secure tenure make someone numb to 
students?  Do we value ourselves and colleagues proportional to the length of 
our academic resume or extent of our and their academic renown?  Are 
accomplished professors really so different from students? 

        My point is that grant securing,  tenure pursuing, researching, and 
publishing aren’t inherently poisonous, but they are so dangerous that they 
should be looked at with suspicion and caution.  It’s our choice to allow or 
disallow them to have a negative impact on our way of feeling, thinking, and 
acting.   Maybe consciously building connections with all students, being 
engaged with them, thinking of them as equals, “desegragating” ourselves, 
breaking down barriers, building chasm-spanning bridges,  bringing about a 
sense of community can trigger basic empathetic processes.  And, maybe faith, 
hope, and love are the essential building materials we need to make our lives 
in the classroom exponentially better.   Caring, without deeds, is meaningless. 
 Too many find it easy to profess “I care” and then carelessly fail at it.  At 
least, I have found that to be so.  Faith, hope, and love are the currents that 
allow me to drift away from impersonal and dehumanizing stereotype, 
generalization, and label.  They allow me to deal, with an empathy and a 
compassion and a smile, with the ups and downs in the classroom.   They give me 
the insight to see that Thich Nhat Hanh is right:  everyone who steps into that 
classroom is an “awe-full” miracle.  

        Enough for now.
Make it a good day


Louis Schmier                                 
203 E. Brookwood Pl               
Valdosta, Ga 31602 
(C)  229-630-0821                             /\   /\  /\                 /\    
                                                      /^\\/  \/   \   /\/\__   
/   \  /   \
                                                     /     \/   \_ \/ /   \/ 
/\/  /  \    /\  \
                                                   //\/\/ /\    \__/__/_/\_\/   
 \_/__\  \
                                             /\"If you want to climb 
mountains,\ /\
                                         _ /  \    don't practice on mole 
hills" - /   \_

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