Principals and Discipline
A conversation between Dr Pat Bacilli and Sarah Mane, author, broadcaster and founder of Conscious Confidence
I’m really struck by the word ‘discipline’, because it really talks to Conscious Confidence. Discipline is really necessary to awaken that knowledge of guiding principles of life. Every culture has a different way of expressing them, but they are guiding principles. And you are talking about a world that is moving at such a pace that this process of learning these principles doesn’t seem to be fully available now.
Exactly. Everyone says that time seems to move faster nowadays. This is because our lives are driven by the superficial thinking part of the mind. For things to slow down we need to start living from the depth of our consciousness, for our life experience to be in the present moment and experienced from a depth of conscious awareness. In that state there is plenty of time, plenty of wisdom and plenty of connection. That’s what you want to offer children because they are like caterpillars growing into butterflies, into full maturity. This is a process of playful and loving growth, learning and expansion. Childhood is the time for principles to get into their hearts. And for this you do need discipline. Proper discipline allows us to move freely through life.
Let’s talk about this transition emotionally, physically and mentally. You, Sarah, look to ancient wisdom, you look at the world and you can see that there is a real need for the application of this wisdom in the world we live in. And one of the areas that I know you’re passionate about is you’re looking at our youth.
Yes, I am. Let’s take the technology that so many of our youth are wedded to. It’s terrific. But when it becomes the platform and the reference point for your life experience for every waking hour, I question that. Traditional wisdom describes a child as like a tender green bamboo shoot that can be bent in any direction very easily without breaking. Another description says they are like the refined clay of a potter. It’s refined clay that can take any impression pressed on it. If you knew that, you’d be jolly careful and discriminating about what you want the child to receive. And that goes for television shows, for music, for movies, for the company they keep. Because they’ll take any impression.
So an adult has a job to do. As a teacher, if I heard a child speaking inappropriately to another child, I had to think, ‘Would I want an adult speaking to another adult like that?’ And that becomes a teaching moment. That speech is not appropriate. It’s not that they’re in trouble, you model how to say it and then you get them to say it again and then you get the other person to respond and it’s a teaching moment all the way, teaching them how to choose another way, rather than just say blandly: “speak nicely.” They actually have to be shown, so there’s a job for the adult, and sometimes I had to work with the parents. Parents and teachers have a job to do, because that period from five to sixteen when the child is just like the refined clay of a potter, is absolutely crucial. It’s the time to get principals in. And that time flies by.
I have so many examples of nine and ten year olds who had the principles inside themselves. I would see them applying principles consciously to situations, and then we could guide them how they could deal with another situation better. There’s much to do in that brief period of time of five to sixteen.
I think sometimes we really expect our schools and our teachers to do some things that are not necessarily being done in the home. And I want to ask you this question about experiential learning, and teaching by example.
It’s very simple. Here’s some timeless wisdom from the West. Plato says that rather than admonish a child you need to live by your own admonishments. Hear that again, rather than admonish a child, you – the adult – need to live by your own admonishments. That’s the answer, you don’t just ask a child not to text at the dinner table while you have your phone with you. The first thing is you need to follow your own principles.
There’s a traditional story which is very helpful. A woman whose husband had died, had a little boy. The boy couldn’t stop eating sweets, candy. She tried everything but he wouldn’t stop, so she decided to take him to a holy man to ask for help. It was a long journey but finally they arrived. She asked the sage: “Tell my son to stop eating sweets because he won’t listen to me. The wise man looked thoughtful and then he said: “Come back in two weeks”. So she went away taking the long journey home. Two weeks later the mother and son, who was still eating sweets despite the mother’s pleas, retraced their steps to the holy man. The holy man turned to the boy and he said “Stop eating sweets”. And the mother was annoyed and said: “Why didn’t you just say that two weeks ago?” and he said, “Well I also ate sweets so, for my words to have any effect I also had to stop”.
It’s more about what you do, than what you say.
If I wanted the children to be quiet, before I said, “Stop talking,” first I’d have to check in with my own behavior, and set my state of mind and emotions. If I was stressed, I would need to fall still first. Then the speech came from that stillness and presence and a completely different tone would come out. I would speak to a different part of the child. I would choose my words differently. That was what I was modelling, checking in with my own behavior first in every possible way. So it’s a fine discipline that I was under all the time, when I was in front of children. Because they’re learning the whole time whether you’re speaking or not, they’re learning. And the question every moment is: What are they learning, what are you teaching?
There’s this idea in our culture that it’s sudden, one day you’re a child, the next day you’re an adult. Certain religions have an event that makes it a rite of passage, the indigenous people some of them have a ritual that one goes through, we each have something. But the reality is it’s not like flipping a switch, or is it?
Well, it can be quite precise. On the sixteenth birthday there is a shift. My husband and I meet some of the children we taught in elementary school, and at sixteen, almost from one day to the next, as you say, there’s a shift. It doesn’t mean they suddenly turn into a fully mature adult. But there’s something different when they’re looking back at you. And you speak to them differently because your relationship does change.
And I know that from the students I taught, I would speak to them quite differently when they were in my class, they always called me Mrs. Mane but once they got to 16, 17, 18 when we met I could see them struggling, what do I call her now? That relationship we had when they were children is both there and not there at the same time. That child you knew is no longer there, now we meet as adults. And the relationship needs to be reformulated based on who we are now.
And all that is held in how they addressed me. That opened the door for them. I’d tell them, if you want to call me Mrs. Mane that’s fine. If you want to call me Sarah that’s fine too, I don’t mind. You make that decision when you feel comfortable, how you want to refer to me. And that smoothed the way for them.
That’s what an older adult does for a younger adult, help them, explain the dynamics of life and apply principles, because they still wanted to maintain respect but the only form of respect they knew was as a ten or eleven year old and now they’re eighteen. It’s different. And that was part of my job, to smooth that transition.
I have seventeen-year-old boys and girls see me in the street in Sydney and shout: “Mrs Mane!” with their arms out to give me a bear hug. These are seventeen- year-old boys and girls, because that connection was there. I love that the trust was there and they just had no embarrassment, just this huge bear hug in the street. That is just amazing. I loved that.
Listen to the whole episode on Transformation Talk Radio.