Think Tank: Self-imposed Prison

I had an intriguing experience recently as a teacher. The type of experience that I have from time to time, but they never cease to amaze me.

There were a handful of students who came into a study hall because they were not participating in a field trip their class was on.  These were not students who appeared to be known for their academic diligence.  I think they came in thinking they could chat and play and just hang-out.  Perhaps that is why they opted not to go on the field trip – so they could have more hang out time.

The teacher of this study hall, however, runs a pretty tight ship and these students weren’t allowed to bring any of their unfocused energy into the room.  She informed them they couldn’t talk and would need to find something to work on.  If they didn’t have anything to work on they would need to pick a book from the stack she had and read.

What happened next was so telling.  These students had nothing they could work on.  They were not prepared to make any use of their time.  There was nothing they were pursuing; nothing they felt motivated to accomplish.  As the teacher required they grabbed books off they stack she had.  They went back to their desks, held the books in their hands and then stared at the walls for about an hour and a half.

It was quite impressive actually.  I think if any teacher had ever required me to just sit and do nothing for that amount of time it would be among the hardest assignments given.  Yet these students imposed it on themselves.  They were surrounded with opportunity and removed from distractions.  Yet they had the discipline to ignore and abstain from the chance they had to accomplish something — anything.  Class that day for them was a self-imposed prison.

I don’t think I’m too far out of line in saying that no one would ever voluntarily sign up for a class called Prison Cell Wall Staring Skills 101.  But living a life in which you only accomplish what people make you leads to your very own prison, for when you are left alone and no one is making you get stuff done you might as well be sitting in a cell.

Choosing to do things leads to real freedom.  Every hour presents each of us with doors of opportunities.  To enter their worlds of possibilities you must choose to open the doors.

The strange paradox is that I think those students thought they were getting away with something that day.  But you can’t fool life.  They thought they were getting out of something when all along they were trapping themselves.



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