There was a conversation today on twitter that I briefly and unproductively contributed to. I say unproductively because I was making points I hadn’t really thought through and don’t really feel passionately about. So when others countered them, I folded up and shut up. I didn’t really know what I’m talking about. The conversation was about teaching class and whether students should use laptops and phones and such. I generally say no. I think writing notes is the better way to go.
To which @namnezia replied:
— Namnezia (@Namnezia) May 19, 2014
It’s a good point (and a wide-ranging conversation worth reading) and one I don’t really have an answer for except that, it’s important to learn do do things someone else’s way in life. Coddling students with extra time and “whatever works for you” and teaching them that they’re all special snowflakes is, I think, doing them a grand disservice if it isn’t balanced by a hefty dose of, “You have to be willing not to get your way a lot of the time. You have to be willing to take instruction. You have to be willing to fit in to a system before you can change a system.”
I find myself thinking of this in the context of sobriety. We alcoholics tend to enter the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous suffering from monstrous distortions of ego. Heroic and brilliant (in our own minds) one moment, abased and worthless (again) the next. As long as we cannot control the riot of this ego, we find it very difficult to recover. Recovery from alcoholism requires, in my experience, a willingness to listen to people who know more than you, and do things that they did. To do them the way they did them.
It’s not so important exactly how one does the steps, I think. There are definitely more and less thorough and effective attempts, but the actual process isn’t so important. It doesn’t matter that you write or not for every step. It doesn’t matter if we do our fifth step with your sponsor or someone else who is on board with the program. It doesn’t matter if we pray the particular prayers of each step. I know sober – happily, strongly sober – people who did all these things differently.
What’s important is that we do the steps the way someone else leads you through them. We submit to someone else’s greater understanding and guidance. We do what we’re told, even when we think it isn’t the best way. Because we need to rely on things outside ourselves to recover. We don’t have the strength, the fortitude, the guts, to get ourselves sober. Because being sober doesn’t require guts or fortitude or strength. It requires surrender and willingness. We need to understand that we can’t fight. We can’t battle. Addiction always wins. We relent, and let go, and the rage and fear and shame dissipate.
Most students will be going on to get jobs in institutions and corporations. They will have bosses and rules and requirements. Usually that are not open to discussion. Each of these young professionals will believe they have a better way to do things. That’s human nature. We all believe we can improve our surroundings. And most of us are probably right. But systems can’t allow everyone to make their own changes to procedure and protocol. Because then standardization and process suffer, and products fail. In medicine, and engineering, and research, that can mean people die.
We all have to learn to do things someone else’s way. We can battle and fight and struggle. We will, usually, end up making only ourselves unhappy. Or we will be excluded from our choice of career or activity. Once we have demonstrated that we can participate in a system as it is effectively, then we can usually ascend to a position where we can have some influence upon how a system evolves.
But what we learn is often less important than how we learn it. And learning to do it someone else’s way can be a critical path to success. Always taking our own road, in my experience, leads to oblivion for the vast majority.