Last semester, I was lucky enough to get into a fascinating Arts and Letters (one of the General Education categories at SC) class called “Happiness and the Human Condition”, taught by Susan Lape. In this class, we considered happiness from the point of view of the Ancient Greeks, from the perspective of positive psychologists, and from the Buddhist perspective; we read Eat, Pray, Love and The Golden Ass, both of which have themes that explore the nature of happiness. During the course of the semester we also got the chance to learn basic meditation practices. At the beginning of class, we would spend the first 10-15 minutes meditating. It was really cool and incredibly relaxing!
Anyways, in one of the books we read for this class, The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology by Jack Kornfield, (a book which I highly recommend by the way) there was a story about a teacher that really moved me, so I thought I would share it:
Some years ago, I heard a story of a high school history teacher [who understood the importance of the first principle of Buddhist psychology: see the inner nobility and beauty of all human beings]. On one particularly fidgety and distracted afternoon she told her class to stop all their academic work. She let her students rest while she wrote on the blackboard a list of names of everyone in the class. Then she asked them to copy the list. She instructed them to use the rest of the period to write beside each name one thing they liked or admired about that student. At the end of class she collected the papers.
Weeks later, on another difficult day just before winter break, the teacher again stopped the class. She handed each student a sheet with his or her name on top. On it she had pasted all twenty-six good things the other students had written about that person. They smiled and gasped in pleasure that so many beautiful qualities were noticed about them.
Three years later this teacher received a call from the mother of one of her former students. Robert had been a cut-up, but also one of her favorites. His mother sadly passed on the terrible news that Robert had been killed in the Gulf War. The teacher attended the funeral, where many of Robert’s former friends and high school classmates spoke. Just as the service was ending, Robert’s mother approached her. She took out a worn piece of paper, obviously folded and refolded many times, and said, ‘This was one of the few things in Robert’s pocket when the military retrieved his body.’ It was the paper on which the teacher had so carefully pasted the twenty-six things his classmates had admired.
Seeing this, Robert’s teacher’s eyes filled with tears. As she dried her wet cheeks, another former student standing nearby opened her purse, pulled out her own carefully folded page, and confessed that she always kept it with her. A third ex-student said that his page was framed and hanging in his kitchen; another told how the page had become part of her wedding vows. The perception of goodness invited by this teacher had transformed the hearts of her students in ways she might only have dreamed about.