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Apr 25, 2008

Colorado Tease

That is what they call the spring season here in Colorado: the Colorado tease. It may snow at night, only to go up to 60 the next day. The weather is not just changing quickly; the astonishing fact is that it keeps doing it for over a month: back and forth, back and forth. The atmospheric pressure is like a mad see-saw, sending people with blood pressure into emergency rooms, and taking the rest off balance. And of course, all is complicated by the expected cabin fever. It is a nervous time of year, doubly so in Colorado. I hear reports of otherwise mildly mannered professors blowing up in class and yelling at students. I learn of one or another intrigue brewing where should normally be none (no real reason). Moreover, I find myself off-balance and irritated about all the wrong, small things. Is it the weather? Are we all tired at the end of the school year? Is it the pressure swings?

What is the difference? One of the signs of maturity is the ability to observe yourself and people around you, and notice the changes, so you can adjust. I guess I am average at that; sometimes I notice things a bit late, and I don't always know how to deal with them. Some people are a lot better, but most are terrible at this. Most people I know pay no attention to the subtle shifts in the emotional pulse of a group to which they belong, nor are they able to monitor their own emotional tonus. Most people will attribute their own mood changes to good or evil actions of others. I am just wondering why it is, and how we all be educated people without such a basic survival skill.

(As I was typing the previous paragraph, I caught myself thinking that its tone is a bit too harsh, a bit arbitrary and perhaps tiny bit dogmatic. How can I claim that most people are quite ignorant of their own emotions? How do I actually know that? Is this the consequence of the same weird atmospheric phenomena, or actually a good point? Where does my authentic "deep" self end, and the untrustworthy and shifty emotional layer begins? Oh, well, I will stick to my claim here anyway; after all, this is not a peer-reviewed journal. So please ignore all of this as complete and utter nonsense.)

Hellenistic philosophers and Buddhists both call for control over one's emotions, but what they mean has nothing to do with suppression of one's emotions. Rather, they meant a way of knowing one's own emotional self, and then being able to detach oneself from destructive emotions, or at least reduce one's dependency on them. But I am not even talking about some spiritual discipline; I want basic, rudimentary awareness of the one's own and the collective emotional tone. And it is possible, because I know at least a few people who are extremely good at it; so good they put me to shame. This does not seem to be an in-born quality; I bet it is a skill, and a bit of an effort and attitude. It's the ability to say the right thing at the right time, to see when someone in trouble and reach out to that person. And especially important is the ability to see a whole group of people (colleagues or students) as if it was a single organism, a person who can be also in trouble, or in need to unwind, or something like that.

By the authority entrusted to me, I thereby declare the week of emotional literacy. Everyone at the School of Teacher Education must learn to pay attention to him or herself, to notice when you are angry or irritated, or happy and calm, and make a mental note of it. No, better yet, you must keep a journal. The, I order people to think about others in the same way: think who might need a friendly conversation, and offer it. I command people to stop worrying excessively, and to invent some sort of breathing technique, no matter how bizarre or ineffective. Then teach at least one other people the technique. All must report on their findings and experience to me next Friday. In writing. In triplicate. 10-20 pages. Single-spaced. 10 point font. Thanks in advance.

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