Looking Inside to Make Sense of What’s Outside
One of my favorite literary characters of all time may surprise you.
Sage and sacrificial, Lord of the Flies Simon has always fascinated me. His role in William Golding’s transcendent novel is brief, his dialogue is terse and wise-beyond-his-years, his death is swift and symbolic. Representative of the spiritual side of humanity, Simon understood the island and its horror long before the rest of the boys and was powerless to make them understand what was happening.
In one particular exchange with Piggy, the scientific yin to Simon’s spiritual yang, Simon delivers a line that has stayed with me, and served as a mantra, for twenty years.
Piggy: I know there isn’t no beast…but I know there isn’t no fear, either….Unless we get frightened of people.
Simon: Maybe there is a beast….maybe it’s only us.
As Piggy struggles to convince the paranoid crowd that, scientifically speaking, there is no such thing as a beast, Simon struggles just as mightily to communicate that the beast is in fact real; it’s just not what the boys think it is. Giving into their primal bloodlust, he opines, is the beast. Unfortunately, such a theory, though valid, is simply inaccessible to the rest of the boys, and shortly thereafter, Simon is proven correct when he is murdered by the very group he was unable to convince.
Without diving headlong too far down an analytical rabbit hole, suffice it to say that Simon’s prescient warning speaks volumes about our innate capacity for everything from fear to empathy. For some, that which is “only us” drives us to greatness, fosters our relationships, and strengthens our resolve. For others, it is because of what is “only us” that we cannot do or be more than we are.
Now consider what is “only us” for our staff and for our kids.
For so many of our kids, we are the only adults who they can look up to and whom they trust.
For each other, we are our only internal support system. We prop each other up during those times when state test scores and bureaucratic mandates cut us off at the knees.
For ourselves, we are the only ones who can truly experience the elation of a positive connection with one student or the utter desperation marked by the inability to reach another.
Regardless of how we associate with Simon’s warning, placing the emphasis on the word only or on the word us, we need to accept that there is, in fact, something inside each of us that led us to this profession, that keeps us here year after year.
Maybe that “thing” changes over time. Maybe that “thing” is the only constant in a life full of variables. Maybe that “thing” isn’t all that hard to express after all.
Maybe it’s only us.