Wednesday, September 1, 2010

On the nature of people and being taught...(warning: long post)

In reading a book by the Dalai Lama, he discusses the nature of things, regarding faith and belief.  I couldn't help but reflect upon my own journey through a conservative Christian college experience, and my travails in attempt to keep up with the behavioral constraints and performance expectations.  


Perhaps I simply wasn't good at it, since I smoked, drank, and had several promiscuous relationships throughout my college years.  11 years of college to be exact.  They weren't all continuous, but had a few gaps in between.  In the end, the smoking and drinking endured, although the sexual relationships ended when I was 21. 


The Dalai Lama, discussing the Bible at a Christian conference in England, explained that the nature of things could be discovered through rational analysis.  By asking a series of questions, about a particular subject, one could discover the nature of a particular subject.   Regarding people, he discussed the fact of people having multiple characteristics that combined to form a person's nature.  Regarding the nature of people and faith, he recounted the following:  (not a direct quote...)


In the Buddhist tradition, there are three types of people, whose intellect, wisdom and belief experience predisposed them to a rough degree of success within spiritual pursuits.  


There were two levels of success that linked a high degree of intelligence, or medium level of intelligence with wisdom and belief experience.  The third category brought compassion in his writing (his voice).  This third tier of people held a high degree of intelligence, and perhaps a good degree of wisdom, but their belief experience held a constant skepticism, where they were unable to ever seat their beliefs in a particular system, or even combination of systems.  These people, he said, find it difficult to settle down enough in their belief system to ever make it very far down a spiritual path of specific intent.  Failure, was not a term used, but rather a sense of slowed progress.


He elaborated upon the concepts of rational thought and its connection to spiritual progress.  People whose religious beliefs are seated within a concentrated rational analysis of their belief system, within the world, are those that hold convictions regarding their religion and as such, convert such conviction readily into action.  Those whose beliefs were based upon intuitive or affective thoughts were those that were subject to the varying winds within the world and easily swayed or distracted.  I find this final thought a bit interesting, as I reflect upon my own college experience.  


Christianity doesn't lend itself readily, in the Protestant world, to free thought, or rational thought that doesn't include Christian sources...I say that based upon my own experience with Protestant Christianity in the Midwestern United States.  Sermons, books, Bible studies, and teachings regarding other religions or philosophic thought were rarely appreciative, and many times focused on evasion of contact with foreign gods and religions.


Regarding teaching and being taught...


I believe spiritual progress cannot be microwaved, and to pace the learning of a disciple, or Christian, represents a specific disservice to the person and merely sets them up for failure.  When an expectation of performance, or expectation of learning achievement represents the basis for measurement for an individual, a pressure presents itself to the individual that may not be able to be endured (or healthily managed).  Spiritual progress constitutes a journey that has many pauses, uphill climbs, and downhill slides...sometimes forward, and at times backward.  These are a normal part of spiritual development, and an expectation for progress may not take into account the particular path for a given individual.  Furthermore, by placing expectations on any development, an individual becomes susceptible to peer pressure...asking themselves if they are keeping up?  


For many individuals, this may not pose a problem, but herein lies my main objection to the concept of an expectation of achievement:  The standardization of any process, by design, focuses on the conformity to the mean.  By standardization, I mean that the average skills, or progress of an individual can be measured at the completion of the training.  Standardization, by definition, means conformity to the standard, or a convergence at the mean.  It follows that the side effects of the standard include an increase in the minimum performance, but also implies that the maximum performance also be reduced to the mean.  The lower performing people may increase in their achievement, for the short term, but at the cost of under-performance by the maximum performing people.  


An increase in the minimum performance of individuals would have to be enacted by an outside force, or effort.  You have to provide additional training, instruction, or monitoring, in order to raise the level of performance.  That same instruction, in a standardize model, would be applied to the maximum performing people, and hence risk redundant training and hold them back.  


One primary question results, if a certain level of training, or an outside force, must be utilized to enforce the standard...what happens when the training is over, or the outside force is removed?   It would hold that the goal of the training focuses on teaching the individual to think and train themselves, or alternatively to be able to locate another source.  This is not an overly incorrect method of thinking, or instruction, and can be quite useful in the development of any individual, spiritually speaking or not.  However, the risk to such an instructive model becomes an unhealthy focus on achievement, or to reach the standard...too lofty for some, and possibly boring for others.  This is where I believe that Christian ministry becomes an end unto itself, and therefore must enforce a mechanism for control.  The proliferation of Christian ministry is carried out through "the church", which I will not confuse with Christ's Bride, the body of Christian believers.  To say it another way, "If Christian churches and ministry are to survive as they do today, then there must always be another performance objective to achieve, another goal to be attained, another sermon to be preached...and so on".  


What I believe the Dalai Lama was saying, with respect to the development of people along a spiritual path:  Every individual must travel a path to spiritual maturity alongside others, but alone with respect to their individual development.  As well, each person comes into this world endowed with a unique level of intellect and a rate at which life experience absorbs and converts  into wisdom.  While every person must take personal responsibility in their own development, any teaching applied to the person must be individualized as much as possible.  Attainment to a standard becomes a tricky question, to which standard?  Surely the Ten Commandments can be presented as a standard, and taught that we are to conform to a certain level of behavior.  Although, it would follow that as an individual grows up, their understanding of "why" the Ten Commandments should be followed, and the benefits that derive from following them, will be encountered on a personal timeline.  Plainly put, to meddle with that timeline, meddles with the person...if you are going to be involved in that process, you must undertake a commitment, as a teacher, to instruct that person, only as that person needs.  Additionally, your teaching, mentoring, or instruction should come in line with helping the individual on their own terms.  You can't teach someone who doesn't wish to be taught, and to commit a person to a standard requires their agreement, no?


On toward a point of finality, I would say that mentoring, instructing and teaching becomes as much art as it does science.  The teacher must become the ultimate student of the student, in order to ensure that the path of the student remains clear and that any progress of the student originates within the student...as they make their own way.  In this way, the teaching process means subjugation of the teacher to the student, as well as the student to the teacher.  In my mind, this represents the way of Christ, and embodies the life of Jesus as we know it.   

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