Remembering the yoin of our work

If you’re like me, you’re in the thick of it right now. I thought revisiting this post was timely.

As educators, we often hit a busy part of the semester where the individual tasks and responsibilities converge and create a confluence of work. We have midterm exams to grade, students’ papers to read, assignments to create and discussion board posts to read. We have classes to teach, students to advise, lessons to prepare, phone messages to return, emails to answer and meetings to plan. We have proposals to write, presentations to create, manuscripts to write.. . and… and the work just continues to grow.

For those of you who have stuck around through that mini-rant, let me explain. I really love what I do. I enjoy working with students and love all of the activities and responsibilities that come with this job. I even enjoy serving on committees. The real challenge is that we can get caught up in the machinations of our institutions and lose sight of the tremendous jobs we have and the powerful work we can do. When I think about teaching, I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes. In Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury writes:

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. 

It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”

Teaching can be like gardening. Our work can last a lifetime. We can create powerful change in the students with whom we work and that change can last forever. Recently, a colleague shared the concept of yoin with me and I think it echoes the sentiment that Bradbury describes. Yoin is a Japanese term so I had to do a little hunting to get an accurate description of the word. I found a great definition in Howard Rheingold’s book They Have a Word for It: A Lighthearted Lexicon of Untranslatable Words. The literal definition, Rheingold writes, “refers to the reverberations that continue for a long time after a well-cast bell is struck.” I think yoin can be a powerful metaphor for our work as educators and can also help to motivate us through the busiest times of our semesters. When we’re staring at the stack of papers and the ever-growing To-Do list, we need to remember the potential reverberations of our “well-cast bells.” We may not always hear the resonance but our jobs can make a difference that reverberates beyond the busiest todays and into the distant tomorrows.

Remembering the yoin of our work can also help us live positively in the moment. As we get busier and the stress builds, what emotions and memories do want to resonate with the students who show up at our door needing help? Or the colleagues who just stopped by with a few questions? Or the advisees who are checking in about an email they sent that morning? Each of our interactions, positive and negative, has the power to reverberate long into the future. How do you want your bell to ring?


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