Courage, Initiative and the New We

Lecture by Florian Osswald, 10th World Teachers' Conference, in: Journal Midsummer No. 57

The Three Hermits

I would like to start with a short story of which a few versions are known. Here, I am using Leo Tolstoy's version. 

Once, three Russian monks lived alone on an island. One day, their bishop came to visit them. He noticed that the monks were not able to say the Lord's Prayer. So, he spent quite some time teaching them this important prayer and it was fairly hard work, indeed. At last, the monks had memorized the prayer and the bishop was well pleased with himself. He went back to his boat and began his homeward journey. However, when the bishop's boat was out in the open sea, he saw the three monks running after the boat across the water and calling out, “Father, we have forgotten the words of the Lord's Prayer.” The bishop was overwhelmed by what he saw and asked, “Dear brothers, how do you usually pray?” They answered, “We just say: “We are three. You are three. So may it be.” The bishop was touched by the monks' holiness and humbleness and he only said, “Go back to your island in peace.” (1)

At conferences we have a tendency to accumulate knowledge. We all know the joys and pitfalls to be found in knowledge. In our kindergartens and schools we want to enable young people to learn in such a way that their knowledge becomes personalised, becomes part of their being.

The Prism and Silence

If you want to remember the conference in the next few weeks or months, just take the prism which you have carried around with you this past week. Look through the glass. Depending on how and in which light you are holding it, you will see colours. Colours appear through the interplay of light with the glass. The glass is a kind of obstacle for the light, and this obstacle makes the colour appear. Has your world also become a little more colourful at this conference? Did you also have to overcome some obstacles during the conference and has this also given you new courage?

I suggest you do a simple exercise within the next few days or weeks: Find a quiet place inside yourself and let the events of this week pass before you. Perhaps you'll see the week in a new light, in new colours. Maybe the first, loud impressions move to the background and the quiet, seemingly insignificant events light up. Experiences change in retrospect and over time. Usually, we don't know at first what kind of power lives in them. With this small exercise we free ourselves from the first impression of an experience and increasingly approach its true meaning.

We

This week, a question has lived in all the workshops and lectures: How do we develop the courage for a free spiritual life or how do we create a healthy We?

The culture of the We deserves our attention. The We enables a lot, even troublesome things. What kind of We lives in our teaching, in the work with our colleagues, in the school community or even in society? Are we aware of the process of how the We is born?

Rudolf Steiner gave the trainee teachers a kind of mental picture or mantra (2) for the creation of the We and thus set down the foundations of cooperation. On the eve of the first teachers' seminar he indicated the significance of cooperation:

We can create a replacement for the supervision of the School Board as we form this preparatory course, and, through the work, receive what unifies the school. We can achieve that sense of unity through this course if we work with all diligence.

The course will be held as a continuing discussion of general pedagogical questions, as a discussion of the special methods concerning the most important areas of instruction, and as a seminar to practice teaching. We will practice teaching and critique it through discourse. (3) 

The skills needed for this type of school management are developed on two levels:

1. Leadership or management must be based on creating “a sense of unity” and this can be achieved by working through the course “with all diligence”. (The course which Steiner refers to has been published in three separate volumes: The Foundations of Human Experience, Practical Advice to Teachers and Discussions with Teachers. GA 293, 294 and 295) 

2. The mantra describes what is meant by “working with all diligence”: It is to study The Foundations of Human Experience and to connect the content with the spiritual world. The fruit of our labour are not meant for us but for others, for the children and the colleagues.

I would now like to show you the three steps of the mantra in a picture. 

A Chair

Imagine you are sitting on a chair, you sit there all alone and start to plan your lesson. You remind yourself that the child's individuality wants to show itself in the present and that you are its servant. Essentially, this is about the human being, it is about knowledge and relationships. As a teacher you are responsible for the atmosphere in which the child learns. As teachers we play with time and atmosphere like artists; we do it for the children and we should do it for ourselves, too.

Unfortunately, we do not give the preparation for lesson planning much attention. Try to get into the right mood, connect yourself with the children or teenagers you are planning the lesson for. Study The Foundations of Human Experience for a moment. Then, follow it up by studying the content of your lesson. Connect the various elements of what you want to teach and then ask yourself: What does all this have to do with me as a human being? What do an engine, an elephant or silica have to do with me? Please pay attention to your relationship to the world. Does the world have a place within yourself or do you feel separated from it? On the one hand, there is the little human being who faces the world, planting his or her feet firmly on the ground. But there is also the large, cosmic human being who encompasses everything. We are both, the large and the little individual or the day person and the night person. We are teaching for both of them. Whatever has been absorbed during the day will be digested in the night. Real learning happens at night. The large human being who lives at night embraces the spiritual world and in particular the world of the angels. Together with the angels we prepare the next day because the night leaves an impression in us.

Another Chair

What happens when we add another chair and face a partner? In 2010, Marina Abramović sat on a chair at the MoMA in New York and did nothing other than look into the eyes of the people who sat opposite her. She did this for 90 days, six days a week, for seven hours at a time, without taking a break, without any food or drink, without talking. She called her piece: The Artist is Present. 

Abramović focused on the other, on the person sitting in the chair opposite. Something happened between those two people. The deepest mystery of mankind is to be found in the In-Between. Many have tried to put it into words, for example the bible, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” or Martin Buber, “I require a Thou to become; becoming I, I say Thou.”

The crucial element here is, what one can give to the other. This is the source of trust, friendship, You, love and courage.

And Another Chair 

Let us now place yet another chair here. We have only just got used to the person opposite and so a further chair causes a small tremor. The cosy duo is properly shaken up by the addition of a third person. Triads are challenging. We have two relationships and in one of them we are a mere observer. This is where the interplay of the group starts.

A group of three is somewhat manageable, however, its complexity increases with the addition of each new member. Suddenly, we are faced with the challenges of community and the question arises, which kind of closeness is created by the group.

In a college of teachers we are faced with a lot of different people. And, against better judgement, a few assumptions never die. For example, we presume that the wellbeing of the community is more important than the wellbeing of the individual. At the moment, politics experiences a revival of nationalistic feelings of We, which have mainly to do with the integration into a group and the exclusion of the so called “foreign”. The longing for identity, which everybody has, can easily lead to the misunderstanding that the individual is unimportant and that only the group counts. If individuals sacrifice their own needs for the group, they weaken their power for self-responsible action. 

The awareness of a healthy We leads to a different set of criteria. The American Anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “Human diversity is a resource, not a handicap.” This is an important statement which values diversity as a positive factor. The individual is the basis of the group. Steiner's view of community is also based thereupon. 

In a true teachers' republic we will not have the comfort of receiving directions from the Board of Education. Rather, we must bring to our work what gives each of us the possibility and the full responsibility for what we have to do. Each one of us must be completely responsible.

This is a strenuous activity. It would be easier for us to fade into the anonymity of the group. To maintain a cosy feel, we put up with submission and accept whatever happens even if we are not sure who holds the reigns. Steiner foresaw this danger:

My dear friends, we can accomplish our work only if we do not see it as simply a matter of intellect or feeling, but, in the highest sense, as a moral spiritual task.

No doubt, only a deep trust in ourselves and our fellow beings can be the foundation of community. This trust encourages us to step towards diversity. We have to solve the question of how to be united in our heterogeneity. It is common to be afraid of our fellow human beings. However, our feet lead us towards the others. If we do not stop our feet, we create room for encounters, thus we allow life to meet us, we welcome diversity. We try to cope with the differences, even to accept them as creative tension.

A new community can only be lived in the reality of daily life. It contains the potential to provide orientation for the individual. The new community does not demand sacrifices but it is important that each individual overcomes the fear of their own courage.

What Steiner described as “unity” can only appear if we create a We. It is a gift. We prepare ourselves, we get ready by creating a We.

The main entrepreneurial risk for any Waldorf institution today and tomorrow is to create a We in which the individual's strength and courage to meet another human being lives. This We recreates itself again and again and is the source of leadership. This is a truly modern concept of leadership. It was created one hundred years ago and has been tried and tested in many places all over the world. Its particular quality is the conscious attention to the connection with the spiritual world. If we are thus prepared to include the help of the spiritual world in our work, we will receive its gifts. The three monks practiced just that. They included the spiritual world completely in their work. 

We are three. You are three. So may it be. 

Translated by Karin Smith

Literature:

(1) Tolstoy, Leo: The three hermits, in: Twenty three tales, Oxford University Press, 1886 

(2) Steiner called this mental picture “a kind of prayer”. The exact words were not taken down in shorthand. Two participants of the course, Caroline von Heydebrand (1886 – 1938) and Herbert Hahn (1890 – 1970) have put their memories of Steiner's words in writing. The following words were written by Caroline von Heydebrand:

“We wish to form our thoughts in such a way tat we may have consciousness: Behind each one of us stands his Angel, gently laying his hands on the head of each. This Angel gives you the strength which you need.
Above your heads there hover the circling Archangels. They carry from one to the other what each has to give to the other. They unite your souls. Thereby you are given the courage of which you stand in need. Out of this courage the Archangels from a chalice.
The light of wisdom is given us by the exalted beings of the Archai, who are not limited to the circling movements, but who, coming forth from primal distances (Urfernen). They reveal themselves only in form of a drop (of light) in this place. 
Into the chalice of courage there falls a drop of light, enlightening our times (Zeitenlicht), bestowed by the ruling Spirit of our Age.'

(3) Steiner, R. (1996) The Foundations of Human Experience. Anthroposophic Press. p.30. Opening Address given on the Eve of the Teachers' Seminar.