Oct 5, 2005

Pontificating Poser Professor


"I have learned silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet, strange, I am ungrateful to those teachers." - Kahlil Gibran

It's been a little while since we left the ranch and I'm slowly putting together some of the pieces of what I learned there. Part of what I'm looking for in visiting places like this to see how different people live, how people act, and try to let positive characteristics rub off on me. And I found I learned a great deal from everyone at Rancho Mastatal. The locals, the staff, and each and every one of the students I found to be inspiring, thoughtfull, and earnest. There was only one exception to all these good feelings and that was with their professor, Chuck.

Chuck is a proud hypocrite. He would get up early each day to go for a run before he got into a gas guzzling 4wd truck and drive a single mile to teach a class on environmental sustainability. It's not that he's oblvious. He is a clever guy, an engineer with a PhD and a long history of working on important environmental cleanup jobs who decided to teach in the environmental studies program.

He never seemed like he was genuinely helping anyone. He would constantly exort his students to work hard, help eachother out and work all day each day. But he, himself, almost never put his hand to actually physically doing anything. In a communal living situation he never helped cook, clean up, nor physically lend a hand to any of the projects he demanded his students work on. Thats not entirely true... one day in the last week I overheard several students expressing shock that he did something. He spent a couple minutes mixing some Cob for an oven being built. Unfortunately having little experience with Cob (which most of had been working with for most of the month) he added far too much clay to the mix so pointlessly weakened the oven.

He alternated between talking to his students as if they were prepubescent children with long tedious lectures about obvious things, to being apathetic about how they fared when he wasn't around. Which was most of the time. He came down to ostensibly to run this intense class that his students needed to do all day every day. But immediately after lunch he usually fled to a house a mile or so away to do... something, I suppose.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining he left early every day and skipped our communal dinners for one made by his personal cook at his home. He is an obnoxious human being with few social skills, particularly to those he couldn't lord over. He treated Tyler and I like some sort of lazy leechs taking advantage of him and his class. Somehow he must not have noticed that most of what we did was get things ready, both materials for work and cooking meals, for his students. But relatively we had it easy, he really leaned hard on the permanent staff of the Ranch. Every slight hitch in plans, which is an inevitability of doing ANYTHING in Central America, he'd come down hard and judgementally even if it didn't make a whit of difference in the long run. And after the staff took over the task of managing most of his class because he walked away from it he had the cojones to demand money back from them because he saw their services more like a bed and breakfast than an environmental education center.

His is a personality pattern I recognize all to well. It was a plague in undergraduate engineering school. A lot of the kids that start out studying engineering were the top of most of their classes in high school and accustomed to being considered the brightest person around. They identify their personal worth in their superiority to those around them. That gets extremely hard to maintain when when the world doesn´t offer a clear metric for who is "better," or worse yet when they run into people that are more "successful" at something they care about. It must have been difficult for Chuck to come to terms with the fact that while he preached sustainability, Tim and Robin were humbly and peacefully living sustainably. And through their example teaching his students far more than he could. When those engineering students suddenly are surrounded by others equally as clever they get really insecure and browbeat anyone they can. About every little thing they can. Its so critical that they maintain their aura of intelligence that they sacrifice respect, personal integrity, social skills and even the effectiveness of any group to maintain their imaginary status in a pecking order. And then they angrily decry why "geeks" are so often social pariahs.

Happily, most of us grow out of that. Before long we realized that teamwork depends on respecting others strengths and that meaningful human relationships are not built on a foundation pecking order. Particularly when you meet people whose vision you support it´s just not a good idea to cut them down.

Chuck might have taught me, by negative example, more about what kind of man I want to be than almost anyone else I met on this trip. I want say the right things less, and DO the right things more. I want to give compliments as fast as I can think of them and repress criticism unless it will do good. I want to be someone who knows lots of information, and I do want to be respected for it but that is far less important than being civil human being.

Maybe I've got him all wrong. Perhaps Chuck actually is wiser than I think he is and was striving to teach all of us this instead. Most of his students, when I spoke to them on their own, ultimately took similar lessons from him than I did.

Perhaps he is a deeply humble human being who acts like a Cabrone to truly teach humility?
Gigantic bug

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