YOU Create Your Own Destiny
“Between stimulus and response there is a space.
In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
-Viktor E. Frankl
These words have always inspired me. Written by a man who survived the concentration camps of the holocaust makes them even more significant. We cannot control many of the things that happen to us in life; but we have absolute control over the ways we respond to those events.
One of our greatest roles as teachers, is to teach truths about life. Sure, we are hired to teach our academic areas; but I believe we miss one of our most important choices if we don’t also teach underlying truths that help our students live a successful life. This quote helped me come up with a way to teach students that they have the power to create their own destiny. How did I do that?
Early in the school year, I put a dot or a star on the far left margin of the chalk board. (Think wipe-off board or electronic board these days). Then I would move to the farthest right side of the board and make another dot or star.
I would pause until they seemed interested in what I was doing. You can do a lot of teaching in the pauses. Once they seemed quiet and curious I would say as I pointed…
This dot on the left side of the board represents the things that happen to us as we live our lives.
Sometimes those events are terrible. Someone we love rejects us.
(Teens always are interested in matters of the heart).
Sometimes we work hard toward a goal and yet we get passed over. Someone else gets recognition that we deserve. We lose our jobs. A loved one dies. Someone insults you or passes around untrue gossip about you. Someone steals something from you. Someone hurts you deeply.
(Each time I offer one of these scenarios I once again point to the star or dot on the left side of the board). I sometimes ask them to add bad things that might happen in life.
Then I move to slowly the left side of the board and point to the dot on the far right.
Way, way over here on the far right side of the board is the way you respond to those events.
Do you know what is between these two dots?
Usually they just look at me and wait. Sometimes someone will make a joke and say, “Nothing?”
The only thing that lies between an event and what you do to respond to that event, is your choice. No matter what happens to us, we always, always, have control over the way we respond to it.
We need to remember only we have the choice to decide how we respond. We always choose. It is those choices that determine our destiny. Look carefully. What is between those two dots?
I then v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y draw a wavy line between those two dots on opposite ends of the board.
You have allllllll this time between the two dots, between the event and your response to decide how you are going to respond.
Choosing the way you will respond, making the choice creates your destiny. What happens to you, doesn’t create your destiny. Your choices in the way you react create your destiny.
Teens (and some adults) limit their destiny when they react without thinking…without making a choice. They say things like, “Well, he pushed me so I punched him,” or “When she looked at me like that I just had to tell her off.”
Wrong. Your reaction was a choice.
Teens will tell me that their parents or buddies told them never to let people treat you like that.
Look around you. Are the people who give you this “punch-them-in-the-face” advice… are they themselves a success in life? Are they living a life you want to emulate? Well, are they?
Or are they in prison or holding entry-level jobs or no jobs even though they are middle age?
You create your own destiny by the choices you make between any stimulus and the response you choose.
Let’s be honest, sometime in life we’ve all made a mistake with a knee-jerk reaction to a situation. I know I have. But I later regretted my response. I share a couple of examples of my own mistakes with my students. We can teach quite a bit by sharing our failures and vulnerabilities. They hear us best when we aren’t preaching.
As the year progresses and a teen or two will invariably make a poor choice, I don’t have to say anything. I just go to the board, make my two dots, and draw the wavy line in between. No words have to be spoken, though many of the students will give that little hum (or groan) of understanding.
I find it’s best to do this activity early in the year before a poor choice has occurred. That way no student is made the target of the exercise. When students come into class all excited about a fight that has just occurred in the cafeteria or hallway, I just draw my two dots and that slow wavy line in between. They get it. They may say something like, “No, seriously Mrs. E. you should have seen it, it was so cool.” But I just draw my two dots and my wavy line again.
What is My Hope?
Someday when I’m no longer standing in front of them in a classroom, my students will remember the two dots and the long wavy line between them. They will realize that they have the power to create their own destiny with the choices they make. They won’t feel they have to become the victim of their own poor choices even if lousy choices were all that was modeled for them.
When I move outside the sometimes confining limits of my academic area, I often feel like I’m doing my most important teaching. It is when I most feel like I am teaching to change lives.
TEACH…To Change Lives
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