This week is Spring Break at APU. I know some of you went to heathen and ungodly places for your education, where Spring Break was nothing more than a week-long episode of “Girls Gone Wild”. At APU, our students spend the week either in prayer and fasting for the peace of the world, in Mexico helping homeless children knit foot warmers for stray dogs, or practicing viola for their Senior Recitals.
A handful of students stick around on campus, usually working to finish up projects or prepare for recitals. It’s another one of those weeks between, those egalitarian times when I’m not “The Professor”, and I can have conversations with students that aren’t transactional. Everyone has a little more time, and breathes a bit easier.
In talking with students, I’m trying to practice the habit of just listening. To listen, and not to speak, until they are done speaking. To allow them room to develop their ideas while I provide simply an attentive silence. To demonstrate restraint when I want to advise, correct, cajole, or critique.
I’ve found myself in a few conversations recently where a student is working through some problem that is miles outside of my experience or knowledge. I think sometimes they believe that I have some secret fountain of wisdom that I can draw on to pour into their lives and situations. The only secret fountain I have access to is the faculty bathroom, and the only wisdom to be found there is on the sign warning you not to poop, because their is no ventilation fan. And, while that is some very valuable wisdom, I just don’t find it widely applicable.
“I got a call to play a 4 month tour, but I’ll have to miss finals and probably come back for another semester to finish school. Should I do it?”
Does the tour bus have poop-ventilating technology?
“My boyfriend is really pressuring me to get cranked on meth with him, and go killing hobos. I really prefer smack. What should I do?”
Well, don’t use the faculty bathroom to get your junk on, because there’s no fan to cover the noise.
So, as you can see, the options for application are rather narrow.
It’s intoxicating to feel like you have this secret well of wisdom to draw on, but I don’t, and so I’m left with two other things of value that I can give them. First, I can share with them my own doubts and fears, when applicable. I get to draw them further in to adulthood, and show them that striving for success in music, and in life, is not a process of silencing doubt and fear, but of overcoming it, of progressing in spite of it. That’s a valuable perspective that I get to share with them.
But, I think the more valuable thing I can give them is a few minutes of attentive silence. Not silence while I wait for them to finish so I can jump in with my own thoughts, not silence while I formulate counterarguments, or plan my day, or fidget anxiously. Simple, attentive, silence. The kind of attentive silence you give to someone when they are communicating important ideas. And, of course, to treat someone’s ideas as important is to treat that person as important.
I know this is a simple idea, and most of you have probably nodded off, or headed off to more interesting blogs. But for me, it is a very difficult thing to remember, and to do. I live in an academic world that has such clearly drawn lines of respect and authority, and the impulse to raise up a student (in their eyes) to “my level” by respecting their ideas, it doesn’t come easily. It takes a measure of humility that I’m still struggling to grow into.
So, in conclusion, shame on you all for clicking on the “Girls Gone Wild” link, and don’t poop in the faculty bathroom.