A few days ago I wrote some thoughts prompted by a passage from Wayne Dyer’s “Erroneous Zones.” I decided to do a similar thing tonight 🙂
This passage deals with how children are trained in school to seek other people’s approval, rather than approving of themselves:
Approval-Seeking Messages from School
When you left home and arrived in school, you entered an institution that is designed expressly to instill approval-seeking thinking and behavior. Ask permission to do everything. Never bank on your own judgment. Ask the teacher to go to the bathroom. Sit in a particular seat. Don’t leave it under penalty of a demerit. Everything was geared toward other-control. Instead of learning to think you were being taught not to think for yourself. Fold your paper into sixteen squares, and don’t write on the folds. Study chapters one and two tonight. Practice these words in spelling. Draw like this. Read that. You were taught to be obedient. And if in doubt, check it out with the teacher. If you should incur the teacher’s, or worse yet, the principal’s wrath, you were expected to feel guilty for months. Your report card was a message to your parents telling them how much approval you had won.“Your Erroneous Zones,” by Wayne Dyer, p57
First of all, I have written before about how much this book helped me re-think getting other people’s approval. Dyer showed me that it is perfectly fine to want other people’s approval; it’s needing it that gets us into trouble.
This specific passage makes me think about my own school career. Despite getting a good education in many respects, nonetheless I caught the plague of academic perfectionism. Starting by about fifth grade, I was terrified to get less than an “A.” I operated in this way all throughout high school, and only relaxed (a little) in college due to burn out and seeing clearly that I had a problem (Other posts where I wrote about academic perfectionism: Day 28: Overcoming the Dreaded “Get it Right” Machine and Day 86: Re-Living (and Relieving) School Woes).
I relate 1000% to Dyer’s description, especially the idea that I was “taught to be obedient.” I was terrified of getting into trouble for misbehaving. So as a rule, I just didn’t. I didn’t do anything wrong. Not only that, I was a star student, and without even examining it, I was completely controlled by the need to always be one.
This worked for awhile: getting 100% on all my tests and my weekly contracts was cool at first! It was the need to always maintain this which ultimately caused a lot of trouble for me.
Doing well for classes, being a good student, there’s no doubt this is who I am. Yet still, there is more to life than good grades, and perhaps a little more rebellion, bit more of an independent spirit would have done me good.
Wayne also mentions the expectation that students should feel guilty if they got in trouble. I’m sure that would have been me! I felt guilty anyway, and I didn’t get into any trouble!
I don’t blame my teachers for instilling in me these perfectionistic, high-strung tendencies. Ultimately, that all rests on me. Yet it’s certainly true that I got the message, from school, from other adults, from the culture, that I was supposed to behave or else I would be punished.
Before I close tonight, I would like to do some pivoting. All this talk of the past is rather unsettling. It’s also ancient history, like beating a dead horse… Somehow I found myself stepping back in the cave with that long-dead approval-seeking dragon.
What do I want instead? What am I creating now?
I want to feel alive! I want to be enthused and courageous, following my dreams and being unstoppable, filled with desire and conviction as I create the life I want in every way! I am free, I am over-joyed, and I am powerful!
Lastly, I want to say that I support you in liberating yourself from any brain-washing you received from your schooling days. As an educator myself, obviously I believe in the power of learning. Yet I am interested in helping “draw out” the brilliance that is inside other people. I’m not the disciplinarian type ready to shame people into doing what I say. I don’t believe shame or guilt are healthy or effective teaching tools.