Some mornings, I get up and read Stoic philosophy and a book of aphorisms. It used to be all mornings, and then most, but as Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”.
However, it is another of Emerson’s quotations that I want to focus on in this post, one that’s been rolling around my brain for the last week or so:
People wish to be settled; only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
‘Settled’ is an interesting word, with many meanings. You can, after all, settle an argument, settle a bill, settle down and raise a family, settle into an armchair, and settle your affairs. To my mind, each definition has an air of being responsible, grown up, ‘conservative’ (with a small ‘c’).
In my own life I’ve definitely felt the pull to be settled. I suppose I am settled, in many regards: we’ve lived in the same house for seven years now — longer than I’ve lived anywhere, other than the house in which I grew up.
For me, there is a balance to be had between being settled in one area of my life and being unsettled in others. Being unsettled is where the sparkley-eyed creative drive comes from, the thing that I can only describe as a ‘wonder factory’. Without that turbulence in my life, I become hollowed-out, an empty husk of a man counting down my days.
To what extent, though, is it up to me to unsettle other people? If I recognise in myself that a need to balance areas in which I’m settled and those in which I’m unsettled, how do I know when it’s appropriate to go about prodding others?
Perhaps, and I suppose this is my get-out-of-jail-free card, by writing about unsettling things, people can opt-in if and when they’re ready. Interestingly, two of my three recent side projects (extinction.fyi and privacy.garden) have been on the unsettling side of things.
Finally, it’s worth noting to myself that being settled in my home life allows me to do unsettling things at work. This is a note to future Doug that when I’m unsettled with things outside of work, it’s time to do more ‘settled’ things in work.
As I posted recently, although I’ve just begun my fifth year of teaching, last year’s GCSE results were my first set. They were rather disappointing and it made me question my methods somewhat. Back in the classroom with pupils today for the first time this academic year, however, has made me stick to my guns.
I’m ‘a do things my way
It’s my way
My way, or the highway
That is to say that whilst I’m obviously going to try some of the modifications detailed in the aforementioned blog post, my fundamental teaching style and blended learning approach isn’t going to change; I’m still going to be introducing my students to educational technology new and old that I think will aid their learning. Thankfully, although there’s obviously analysis to do of my results and those of the department, my teaching methods haven’t been questioned at all.
It’s difficult. As the main earner for my family I have a responsibilty to my wife and son to make sure they can live in the manner to which they are accustomed. But I also have guiding principles. It’s easy to let the latter fall by the wayside in the face of adversity or pressure. Thankfully, the only pressure I’ve felt has been self-exerted. Reading the following passage from Ralph Waldo Emerson‘s essay Self-Reliance helped greatly:
Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life’s cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another, you have only an extemporaneous, half possession. That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him. No man yet knows what it is, nor can, till that person has exhibited it. Where is the master who could have taught Shakespeare? Where is the master who could have instructed Franklin, or Washington, or Bacon, or Newton? Every great man is a unique. The Scipionism of Scipio is precisely that part he could not borrow. Shakespeare will never be made by the study of Shakespeare. Do that which is assigned you, and you cannot hope too much or dare too much.
I’m not, of course, comparing myself to these luminaries, but I found this particular passage very inspiring in the last few days. It’s eased some of the self-imposed pressure to focus narrowly and exclusively on results. 🙂