From the moment of birth forward life is a dynamic tension of self-expression and meeting the requirements of others. At times, others’ expectations of us are at odds with our authentic self. In those moments, which occur over and over, we resolve the tension in one of two ways. On one hand we can choose in favor of authenticity and possibly sacrifice in terms of positive relationships with others. On the other hand we can subjugate our self-expression in favor of conforming to the expectations of parents, friends, teachers, and others whose acceptance and admiration matter to us. While our reward with that choice is acceptance or conflict avoidance, our sacrifice is authenticity. Inauthenticity rings hollow in the depths of our soul and damages our self-regard.
For those of us who are fortunate, we are not confronted often with such dilemmas. For too many others, however, their life experience is largely and often one which values conformity to others’ expectations over the authentic unfolding of one’s Self. For these people, their inner voice retreats into the distance and becomes nothing more than a faint whisper. They lose their inner compass for navigating life. Their “success” in life becomes wholly dependent on others’ opinions, and values lose their influence. Life becomes a stormy, uneven experience and successes do not bring a deep sense of fulfillment. The positive potential of life becomes squandered.
As educators, you can have a substantial impact on the life trajectories of your students. You can nurture and support authentic self-expression. You can take an interest in who each of your students are – their individuality. You can help each of them become more keenly aware of themselves and create classroom and school cultures where the emphasis is on what’s strong as opposed to what’s wrong. You can help each student become an expert in using their unique profile of strengths to achieve personally meaningful and fulfilling success. In so doing, you will send them out into the world with a value-based compass that they can use forever as they navigate the journey of life. And, as you do this, you will be modelling a positive and nurturing approach to parents as well.
I recall a conversation with a 14 year old student at a school that had implemented a VIA character strengths program. When I asked about the impact of the program he said, “The way I see myself and others has changed forever.” His teachers gave him the gift of a set of lenses through which he could see the goodness and positive qualities that reside in him and in others. It was a gift that will never stop giving.
You can give that gift to your students and change the course of their lives for the better! And that gift will ripple through each of your students’ lives creating a tsunami of positive impact in the world.
As Mahatma Gandhi advised, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
Neal Mayerson’s message to attendees at the 4th International Conference on Psychology & Allied Sciences (Goa, India; January 16-18, 2016)