“It’s not the cutting out of frustration, but the adding in, at the same time, of love, compassion, caring, alarm; it’s the adding in. It’s not the cutting out of ‘undesirable’ impulses, it’s the adding in of the thing that would bring us to stability, to balance. That is the idea. Everything has an answer. The goal is to be a well tempered person.”
-Dr. Gordon Neufeld, in lecturing for his course, “Making Sense of Kids”
My older brother paddled over to me, smiled, and said, “Go ahead and pray, but maybe pray with your eyes open.”
Then he paddled off down the river.
I had been floating along in the current. Two years before I’d had an ugly run on a river, flipping over in rapid after rapid, banging my face and my knee and my leg, and for two years I’d been too scared to go whitewater kayaking again. The moment I’m remembering now didn’t end all that fear, but it helped me to hold my fear in a different way. It helped me to add in other experiences, too. I could keep my eyes open, too. I could see the water, and how beautiful it was. I could see the current, the ways waves marked them: I actually knew a lot about how to “read” all that and maneuver through it. I was also a kid who loved just letting my fingers move through water: I loved the lift, the flow, the space of it, and all that was in the river, too. The river frightened me, but didn’t only frighten me.
I’ve been wondering where else in my life that pattern holds true, and as far as I can tell, the answer is “everywhere.” Whenever I’m frustrated with a student, I’m not only frustrated. I’m hopeful for them, too. I wouldn’t be frustrated if I didn’t see how much was possible, how many different paths they could take, how many different places–to almost-Dr.Seuss–they could go. Of course, once I take the time to really feel all that hopeful connection, I’m not only frustrated. Not anymore. And once there are other elements, the frustration can’t push me around like it once did. I’ve found my mix. Right now, in my third week of grad school, I’m exhausted and stressed by everything I’m trying to do (including finish this). But I’m not just exhausted. I’m also thankful, and happy for the chance to share, and inspired by people I’m meeting. I’m about to eat something mysterious that my French housemate is cooking. I’m a mix. A “temperament,” Neufeld says, originally meant a “mix of attributes;” “well-tempered” means that the different attributes balance each other out.
When I get quick tempered (if you tried to mix something quickly, I suppose it might not end up that well mixed) and angry, I keep falling back to trying to cut something out. I try not to worry. I try to stop being so lazy. I try to put my sadness aside. And Neufeld says, “Stop:” stop trying to cut things out, and start adding things in.