Sunday, October 16, 2022

Struggle Is Essential To Transformation

We worry a great deal about both physical and psychological injury, and we should, but I wonder if in our efforts to protect ourselves and others, especially young children, we often lose sight of the truth that without pain, without struggle, without anguish, discomfort and fear, transformation is impossible.

Childbirth is an obvious example. No one can deny that bringing a child into your life is a transformative experience. For that to happen, there must be the pain. The physical pain is obvious, even if delivered by a Caesarean process. But there is, as far as I can tell, an accompanying painful psychological process of severing oneself from one's previous life that goes beyond the sleepless nights and the curtailment of a social life. For many it's a long struggle, both psychologically and physically, but rarely does anyone look back and feel that the price they paid for their transformation was too high.

We've come to regard "education" as a long steady process, but that's just an illusion created by the artificialness of schooling. Real learning, which is to say, transformation from a state of ignorance to one of enlightenment, is in reality more of a lurching, spiraling, ebb and flow, full of peaks and valleys, and yes, pain and suffering. Those of us in the world of play-based learning, myself included, tend to become fixated on the joy, but in reality, we know the much of the greatest learning comes through falls, disappointments, and failure, because we are not in the business of schooling, but rather transformation.

And transformation is essential. As Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno writes, "Suffering is the substance of life and the root of personality, for it is only suffering that makes us persons." Indeed, Buddhism teaches that suffering is the inescapable essences of life. Of course, our biology makes us recoil from pain and suffering, and we are particularly appalled when it comes young children. Of course, we protect ourselves and seek to protect others, but as Unamuno also writes, "The satisfied, the happy . . . they fall asleep in habit, near neighbor to annihilation. To fall into a habit is to begin to cease to be." Habit is the opposite of transformation. One of the most tragic stories I've ever read is Henry James' The Beast in the Jungle, in which the protagonist discovers, to his horror, that he is the one human on earth to whom nothing at all is to happen.

Genuine growth and transformation most often come through pain and struggle. We must lose aspects of our old self, our old life, as we become new, and that is always at least uncomfortable. I've taught myself a mantra to recall, even as I'm tending to the physical and psychological bumps and bruises of young children: when someone is crying, someone is learning. Perhaps not in that moment of acute pain, of course, but in the struggle of transformation that inevitably comes on the other side, even if it's only the conclusion, Well, I won't do that again.

To be a caretaker of others requires a delicate balancing act. Of course, we must protect them, but at the same time, it's possible, even likely, that we overprotect. The way I try to think about it is that there will always be trauma, but my responsibility is to ensure that there is also, on the other side, healing. And that, I think, is what the struggle of transformation is all about. 


"I recommend these books to everyone concerned with children and the future of humanity." ~Peter Gray, Ph.D. If you want to see what Dr. Gray is talking about you can find Teacher Tom's First Book and Teacher Tom's Second Book right here

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