A mass of armed combatants oppose you in an open field. Screaming and gesticulating, clanging their weapons against their armored, merely clothed and painted naked bodies, they impatiently await battle. Their fearsome leader riles them to a fever pitch with his words.
You spin around assessing your environment. Mud surrounds you. Blackened trees puncture the darkened skies above you. And, as far as you can see, the ground is littered with the rotting remains of the dreams, passions, and ambitions you have had before. All of them struck down in their infancy. You have stepped onto this battlefield many times before. So, have I. We all have. This is where we come time and time again to reclaim ourselves. This is where we wage war against our demons.
With a raise of their leader’s sword and a bellowing roar, the horde charges forward to meet you. Alone, you feel naked, exposed, and vulnerable. The ground begins to shake as they draw nearer. You pat your legs, arms and chest in a futile search for something, anything to fight back with. All you carry is a backpack that contains your latest idea, initiative, or imagining. They are so close now that the smell of their stench takes your breath away. Wide-eyed, unsure and filling with fear, you hurriedly shake off the straps of your backpack, drop it to the ground, and run. You retreat. You withdraw. You give way.
Your backpack is enveloped in a sea of demons. They stomp on it. They rip at it. They shriek when they get their claws on it. Their leader jumps in, tears it away from them, and hoists it high for all to see. He is pleased. Once again, you have stepped onto his battlefield. Once again, you have been defeated. And, once again, you are on the run. His smirk of satisfaction grows with every step you take.
With another victory secured, he and his horde begin their return back to the depths of doubt, anxiety, and insecurity from whence they rose. Yet, this time things are different. You slow the pace of your retreat. You remember that your are not alone. You are part of a tribe. You come to a stop. You call upon us. We arrive. We always arrive. Shields in hand we gather around you. A sheathed sword appears by your side. You had the ability to fight back all along. You just did not believe it.
Your demons are startled. This has never happened before. They hastily regroup for another attack and race towards us. You call out “Hold the line!” We lock shields around you. The horde crashes down upon us. You do not yield. We have your back and sides. Their fighting becomes reckless, desperate even. You call out “give me one foot”. We heave our shields against the darkness, take a step forward and give it to you. Your demons begin to panic. “One more foot” you cry out. And, once again, we give it to you. They turn wide-eyed, unsure, and fill with fear. It is their turn to run and they do.
Our shields open up. You step away from our surrounding presence. It is just you and the one who goes by many names. Shame. Perfection. Self-doubt. Who knows what name he goes by today? All you know is that this is the mother #%@* who’s been holding you back for far too long. You draw your sword and take a step forward. The mud begins to dry. You take another step and the trees begin to blossom. You take another step and the skies begin to lighten. Your steps become a jog. Your jog becomes a gallop. Your gallop becomes a sprint.
Each year a new cohort of students come into my classrooms. Many arrive to some degree paralyzed by perfectionism, tentative about taking the initiative, and unwilling to throw themselves and their work into the real world out of fear of failure.
Tribal Teaching is focused on giving students the tools with which to fight their demons. Developing the techniques, tactics and strategies to go head-to-head with their demons is more important than any concept, theory, or mathematical equation I could give them. Because, in today’s world, “To Know” is overrated. A lot of us know. “To Do” is entirely different. Not all of us can do. I know. I am just learning how to do.
I teach to build tribes (h/t Seth Godin)
I build tribes because we all need our back and sides covered from time to time.
Shawn Humphrey, the Blue Collar Professor (@blucollarprof)