29 April 2013

Questioning Myself

I often ask myself if what I'm doing from day to day is useful or not.  Does going to school and trying to teach English to high school students serve a greater purpose in the world?  Are there other people out there who would do it better than I?  Am I really accomplishing anything?  Am I really helping, or is there a different direction that I could or should go in?

I don't ask myself these questions to agonize myself or to wallow in self-doubt.  In fact, from talking to other people I've learned that most people ask themselves similar questions all the time.  While some people might advise us not to think of such things, or not to doubt ourselves or our careers, I think it's quite healthy to keep an open mind about what we're doing and why.  When we're asking the questions, we tend to look for answers a bit harder, and we may find them in the smallest of things that we otherwise might overlook.  In the case of a teacher, we may hear an answer in a student's comment about feeling more comfortable with his or her writing, or a remark about feeling safe in my classroom.  I might see an answer in a piece of writing that's extremely expressive, which shows that a student is able and willing to share deeper ideas with me as a reader.

In other career areas, the answers to our questions may be less clear or obvious.  Cashiers at a supermarket, for example, serve a very important purpose for all of us who want to buy food, but their contact with us is fleeting at best.  They may see the feedback they need in a smile and a sincere "thank you," though.  They may feel appreciated when a customer feels comfortable enough with them to engage in a conversation, however short it may be.

Questions help us to move further, to examine critically, to look for answers and ideas that otherwise we might never look for.  Rainer Maria Rilke advised Mr. Kappus in a letter to him:  "I must beg you as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heart, and to learn to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and books written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the key is this, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, without hardly noticing, you will live along some distant day into the answers."

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