A Role Model from the Dark Side

I will call him the Shrew. People didn’t always like him. He had a dark side. But although I was young, I could easily grasp his darkness. My old soul was able to relate to all types of people, including dark characters. It came naturally for an empathetic character – I thought people were too harsh on him. Then again, I always think people are too harsh on people.

He was my languages teacher and I learned plenty from him. How to read books. How to truly read books. His lessons were the end of me passing through the pages indolently and swallowing whatever anyone decided to put there. He taught me to feel literature and to picture the authenticity of the paper hardcovers. The grammar-akin kid in me was achingly growing by learning the worthlessness of dry words and by starting to feel books into adulthood.

One would even say that I did not perceive the Shrew in the typical, mostly supportive way expected from a mentor or a role-model. Relating was often challenging. His critical ways were a slap in the face to my young teenage ego accustomed to getting it easy through primary school. To my surprise, there was more to the world or words than just spelling and grammar.

He did not really led the decent society lifestyle or fell into the description of a politically correct person. He did definitely not fit in the teenage mentor “responsible adult” frame. But he knew books. And a great role model does not always need to be a great person, whatever stands behind the description of people’s greatness. By observing him during the four years of high school I started seeing both sides of people and I came to know acceptance, mostly self-acceptance.

The Non-Parental Mentor

The Shrew did teaching. But he was not a regular teacher. Nor a parent. Maybe that is exactly why I inadvertently chose him as a role model. Maybe his influence in my life was so important because the choice was not a conscious decision. Or maybe just because my grandmother was a teacher, too. The first teacher in my life who was not chosen, but put upon. Rather, the Shrew was my own choice and a different one from my parental figures. He did not care much about being accepted. In the open of course. He was human after all and wanted true connection.

Yet, he was genuine. Far more than many people I knew in my life. He was not so frightened to keep me so safe. Such is the ungrateful role of primary caretakers. Being so scared to keep youngsters well and safe, greater limits are made. The Shrew was filling in what I have been mostly missing as a teenager – authentic courage. Intelligence was so overrated to my family. Stupid people were laughed over. Only intelligent people were good enough to be loved. And that is why the real person behind the intelligent coward I was started emerging just as I enrolled high-school.

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Boldness aside, the Shrew was not stupid. Not at all. Perhaps that is why he influenced me so much – because he had both the mind and the heart.

His job was not easy. Making young adolescents stay until the end of a 1000-page long Russian book classic is a taxing task. I never understood why they gave such books to so young people. What can a 15-year old teen understand about Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina’s adult gender and morality burdened problems or the society-induced killer in the main character of Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment”?

Possibly, we get these books because this is the most receptive age in which not everything needs to be fully understood, but in which the initial spark for the right kids can be forever ignited. And possibly, the Shrew knew this.

A Lesson from a Theater Setting

The actress lesson came upon me because the Shrew thought that often loud-spoken, I would make a good actress. Little did he know that I was loud only for things that truly mattered to me. I was not comfortable with being put on stage. Putting so much emotional energy out there was draining for an introvert like me. An evening in front of people took me days to recover.

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Still, what would the role of the mentor be if not to put me out of my comfort shoes and see how far can I go when facing other(s)?

He made me play a middle-aged woman with a father that just got out of prison and a drug-addict son. Maybe he thought I could imagine being in her shoes. And there he was right. I do easily imagine what it is like to be someone else.

His methods were not always pedagogic, but they were certainly growth-spurring. My respect for him grew after this.

The Gushing 40-Minutes Long Final Exam

It was the day of the final exam in literature at graduation. We have been introduced possible topics and books that had the same gauge running through them. Quite unusually, I did not care much about this written exam. I thought it was boring. All those rules for writing essays were giving me a headache.

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I was eighteen and finishing high school. The whole summer was before me and the beautiful May weather was not exactly the best friend on a graduation exam. I was practically angry that I had to sit there and write.

Perhaps it was all that anger that made me finish the exam within just forty minutes instead of using all two and a half hours we had at our disposal. But I’d like to think that the flow of words that was nothing like ever I’d written before came out under Shrew’s guidance.

The sentiment of that day helped me overcome the regret of not keeping my exam paper. Just then, I knew my needs, I found my voice and I made the right choice. It was the breaking step to believing in my personal value regardless of my looks or popularity. Shrew’s natural authority taught me how to find and open the right doors for me. Telling the truth to my peers just became much easier.

The know-it-all child’s best lesson from his high school guide was to question its deepest beliefs and to grow into a vulnerable adult.

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maths the language of the universe

Mathematics – the Imperfect Language of the Universe

“We give great value not only to the methods and the tools of science but also to the language of the universe we call mathematics.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson

Writing about the flaws of science in the age of fake news is like walking on eggshells. When supported by a public interview statement given by the celebrity astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, though, it is a far more comfortable challenge.

The Problem with Scientific Bias

As a guest at the Stephen Colbert’s informal interview-lecture at Montclair Kimberley Academy, DeGrasse-Tyson used the words of the Nobel-prize winning mathematician  Eugene Wigner to bring us closer to the specific bias of the scientific logic:

“Having in mind that it is a product made in our heads, mathematics has inexplicably large usefulness in the universe. We haven’t discovered mathematics under a rock. It is a pure mental fabrication, and yet, it provides us with exact predictive descriptions and explanations about the universe.”

Neil considers maths and physics the basic elements of the language of the universe. The majority of academia would agree that they are the backbone of science.

However, while getting used to interpreting phenomena and events through this language, we forget about stepping out of the lines of established thinking.

The Self-limiting Rules of Science

An almost perfect illustration of the limiting frame of a single scientific language is spinning the phrase “thinking out of the box” into “thinking out of maths”.

DeGrasse-Tyson added that there was a problem with the outcome of a one-directional interpretation of the universe.

By getting accustomed to dismissing our intrinsic senses to investigate and discover new things we possess as children, we filtrate everything through the already digested knowledge.

We make hypotheses and generate assumptions on the basis of “how things should be” and “have always been” to draw conclusions about “how things could be”.

In this way, we damage the childlike curiosity in the mind of a fully grown adult.     

This is where Tyson cuts it short by remembering the libretto of the Broadway musical “Phantom of the opera”. He showcases his love of another phenomenal language – the language of music: “Leave your senses – is a replica from the musical”, he says and adds: One day, perhaps in another life, I too would love to write texts for Broadway musicals…”

Stephen Colbert Interviews Neil deGrasse Tyson

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