Learning to See – Chuck

Will You Please Be Quiet, Please   — Chuck Sandy


When I first came to Japan, I lived in Tokyo and worked not too far from where I’m sitting now in the Ginza area of Tokyo. For several years, I’d finish classes and head to Ginza to wander the streets. I can honestly say that I’ve never been lost in Ginza– until this morning.

Yesterday, I traveled to Tokyo from rural Japan for a conference.  As usual when I’m in Tokyo, I booked a hotel in Ginza but this time reserved a room at a new hotel – a few blocks from where I usually stay. This morning, I woke up there with a lot on my mind and went for a walk.  I had no destination in mind. All I wanted to do was walk. I confirmed the check out time. 11 AM.  I had two hours to wander and off I went.

As I walked, I thought about a loved one going through a difficult time, about a conversation I’d had in which I was unable to express my ideas clearly or kindly enough. Soon, I was remembering advice my father had once given me that would have been useful yesterday.  Meanwhile, I was reminding myself to email this person or call that one, thinking about this blog post and where I’d write it, and deciding what order I should do what.  That’s when I looked up and saw that it was 10:45 and I was lost.

I looked around for landmarks, spotted one, and headed in what I was sure was the right direction. It was the right direction, but while I was out construction workers had put scaffolding outside my hotel, making it look like nothing I’d seen before. I passed right by it in a panic.

I started mentally rehearsing the language I would use to explain why I was late checking out. What form of the verb should I use, and why hadn’t I just checked out before I went for a walk?  Why had I even booked this hotel? Gosh, Chuck, you’re such an idiot., I told myself.   While having this internal conversation, I walked by the hotel three times before asking a construction worker for directions.  “It’s right in front of you,” he said, “You’re looking at it.”

My internal chatter, my increasing panic, and my stored mental image of the hotel entrance had blinded me. I’d gotten lost inside myself.  It happens. It happens to all of us, and it happens frequently in the classroom.

I’m reading a book called The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer. In this book, Singer writes about the voice inside all of us, about how that voice can get us to believe it is who we are and is reality itself. It’s not. “What voice?” I can hear you asking.   Say the word “hello” silently in your mind. Make your inner voice say “hello” several times.  Hear that? That voice.  Make it shout “hello” inside yourself. Make it say, “I’m not good at ______.”  No, stop. Don’t complete that sentence. Make the voice say, “I’m really good at ______.  Complete the sentence in different ways. Listen to yourself. Now, think about this.

Inside all of us, writes Singer,  “there is a voice talking, and there is you who notices the voice talking and you listening.” Are you the voice, the observer, or the listener?  Think about this and you’ll realize you are the one who listens, not the one who’s talking. You’ll also understand that your inner voice isn’t reality. It’s your mental model of reality and when you pay too much attention to it or let it get out of control, it can get you lost and panicky.

In the classroom, this is the voice that can say things like this isn’t working and that student is causing problems and I should have planned better and I’m not very good at …. .  Stop it.  You’re getting lost. Take a deep breath. Look for landmarks, spot one and head in that direction. Better yet, before you get to class, take some moments to quiet that voice.  At the very least, get it to tell you something good.

As always, I’m writing about something I’m trying to get better at myself. Obviously, I fail sometimes and wind up lost and panicky. What’s clear to me is that if I want to see clearly what really is, I’m going to have to keep working on this while telling myself this noisy chatter inside me is not me.  I am good enough. This IS going to be FUN. Now, will you please be quiet please? 

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Chuck Sandy

Chuck is a teacher, teacher trainer, author & educational activist with 30 years of experience in the US, Japan and Brazil. His many publications include the Passages and Connect series from Cambridge University Press and the Active Skills For Communication series from Cengage Learning. He is a frequent presenter at conferences and workshops around the world. Chuck believes that positive change in education happens one student, one classroom, and one school at a time, and that it arises most readily out of dialogue and in collaboration with other educators. This is the reason he has built a Facebook group with over 9000 teachers from 24 countries that meet for ongoing educational discussions. It is also the reason he has worked to introduce Design For Change into Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, and Russia.

4 thoughts on “Learning to See – Chuck”

  1. Dear Chuck,

    What can I say, really? It almost feels like you’re talking to me in this post.
    It makes me think so deeply about who I am as a teacher;
    It makes me question my inner voice that can sometimes be so misleading, coaxing me into the wrong direction.
    It reminds me how I need to find my anchor, take a deep breath and get back on track.


  2. Hi Chuck,

    Ratna, I had a very similar experience. This was one of the most personal feeling blog posts I’ve read in quite some time. I only had time for one read, but I will be coming back to this post again. Not the least because I know that listening to inner voice and it’s pressure to come up with answers and fix things in my classroom often leaves both me and my student at a disadvantage.

    And it’s kind of a coincidence that you make a nod to Raymond Carver. I spent the past few days looking through “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” trying to figure out what it is about Carver’s use of chunks that allows him to use so many obvious slotted phrases without it ever feeling cliched or formulaic. Haven’t figured it out yet. But love to have a reason to reread the stories.


  3. Hi Chuck,

    I think, as Ratna and Kevin have already demonstrated, this is something that we all struggle with.

    Through years of reflection I have noted numerous times how powerful this voice is, and how hard it is to impose silence.

    I am not sure quieting that voice will ever be “easy”, but as you say, it is something we must constantly strive for if we desire “to see clearly what really is”.

    Thank you for highlighting that we all struggle with this. Double thank you for reminding all of us that the power of positive thought is demonstrable in quieting our “mental mood of reality”.


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