Breathing, and Meaning It

[This is a re-posting of a comment in response to this blog Post by Tom Morris, for whom I was once a teaching assistant, and from whom I learned some important things about teaching.]

monksSomewhere in my young adulthood, I caught myself assuming (and having assumed for a long time) that repetition is always an enemy of sincerity or authenticity. It’s true that repetition can become empty, but it’s not inevitable. As a teacher I’ve found that I keep repeating some of the same things year after year. The revelation comes in how it is possible to mean them, and to say them like I mean them, more deeply each time. If you think that “ritual” always has to be a bad word, then perhaps you’ve never known someone who lives by ritual as if it is their way of breathing, and who knows that without such breath they could not live.

When I teach sociology, I call my students’ attention to how many of us think of acting as merely “reciting lines,” when it is actually re-breathing, re-living, saying something again, and meaning it. With this realization, the common observation (most strikingly stated by Shakespeare) that our social life is theatrical (acting in roles) can be seen as the profound insight it is, rather than a disappointment and invitation to cynicism.

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