Working in schools across the world is a unique experience. I find that we are more alike than not, especially when it comes to personalities. To the letter, it is almost eerie the similarities in personalites I encounter when I visit schools. The people may speak different languages, wear different clothing and even exercise different religious practices but, as a rule, they all exhibit similar traits and characteristics of their counterparts the world over.
There is one personality that I am continually confronting that I am working hard to combat. It doesn’t happen often, well, actually, it occurs often enough that, when I enter a school I encounter a personality we might call the, “Well Poisoner.”
This person’s actions are rarely, if ever, malicious in nature. Actually they are expressing a care, concern and respect for me, and what I’ve come to do in their school. I realize this and hold no ill will, but there are consequences to our meeting.
Our interactions usually go something like this,
W.P.: “Welcome to our school Baba.”
me: “Thank you for inviting me.”
W.P.: “I wanted to take a moment to talk to you about our students before your performance.”
W.P.: “Our students tend to be a bit rowdy and very disrespectful at times.”
me: “How so?”
W.P.: “They may be talkative during your performance and exhibit some very rude behaviors.”
Because I’ve encountered this scenario many times over my career as a professional storyteller, I usually respond with a light-hearted, “Don’t worry, I’ve been doing this many years. I think they will be fine.”
The Well Poisoner is often incredulous that I am underestimating the severity of the behavior issues I am about to encounter. The Well Poisoner and I usually agree to disagree and he/she will walk away from me shaking his/her head in disbelief at my unbelievable degree of naiveté.
The problem in this scenario is that, as you can see, the veritable well has already been poisoned. My thoughts, involuntarily, craft a catastrophic scene of children rioting and leaping over chairs and tables, assaulting teachers with shivs and foul language, screaming, “viva la revolution!”
Over the decades I’ve learned to calm my thoughts, breathe and push pre-judgments away from my purpose for being in the presence of students. I am, and have always been, a man on an “Aesopian Mission.”
Inevitably, and consistently, over the years, children enter sounding like children (talkative, animated, laughing, loud), nothing unusual in that.
Inevitably, and consistently, over the years, I establish my presence, form a rapport, perform, engage, bond, share and end feeling spiritually satiated.
Inevitably, and consistently, over the years, the Well Poisoner returns to me possessing brighter eyes and a wide smile and says, “I have never witnessed anything like that in my life! That was phenomenal!”
I don’t want any of you to think that I am doing something magical or extraordinary during these performances. I do not believe that I am. I think what is happening is the same exact thing that is happening in many classrooms across the world. This will sound contrite but I, honestly, believe it to be true, “Students will rise, or fall, with the expectations of those charged with their instruction.”
I expect to be respected when I walk into a room because I offer respect. I expect to be listened to when I walk into a room because I am there to listen. I expect the students I encounter to offer the best of who they are because the “only” reason I am with them is to offer them the best of who I am.
When you are doing your purpose in this world my friends, please do not allow others to poison your well.