Morries Aphorisms

Using Morrie\'s Aphorisms as Teaching Tools

No bubble is so iridescent or floats longer than that blown by the successful teacher.
Sir William Osler (1849-1919), 4 Oct. 1911, Glasgow (quoted in: Harvey Cushing, Life of Sir William Osler, vol. 2, ch. 31, 1925).

Mitch Albom wrote Tuesday’s with Morrie as a final tribute to his old college professor, Morrie Schwartz, who intended that his death should be his "final thesis." Grim and fascinating, Professor Schwartz’s courage in the face of a painful death is truly inspiring. The lucidity and wisdom which Professor Schwartz gained over the years became increasingly pronounced and focused as he contemplated his life and imminent death, as well as his place in the Cosmos while his frail body melted away through A.L.S. (Lou Gehrig\'s disease). This paper will discuss five of Professor Schwartz aphorisms (or proverbs), which would facilitate learning in subject- specific -and other educational venues.

The Meaning of Life

“So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.” (emphasis added) (p. 43)

Professor Schwartz’s analysis of the "meaning of life" is particularly appropriate for teaching philosophical views and sociological concepts. Since time immemorial, man has contemplated why he is on the Earth and what his place is in the ‘Greater Scheme of Things’. While students rush through the educational process in a pinball-like attempt to learn what they need to thrive and survive, they frequently overlook those aspects of their education, which are the most important. When people become self-actualized, as Professor Schwartz did, they are better able to view humanity from a broader angle. This "better view" of mankind involves a commitment to others and to the community in which one lives, but it is more elemental than that. Material possessions, according to the professor, mean little when you are lying on your deathbed. What is truly important is that an individual’s life is given meaning and purpose by the degree to which that individual has served and loved others.

Admittedly, Professor Schwartz had the wisdom of years and the insight provided by decades of philosophical research; however, the quest for the "meaning of life" is a universal aspect of mankind and finding the right answer is like finding the Holy Grail -- many have looked but few have seen. Therefore, Professor Schwartz’s thought process concerning devoting oneself to loving others and their community is particularly appropriate in a philosophical and sociological learning environment. A better learning experience could be gained by a requirement that all college students perform a certain number of hours of service to the community: painting and repairing low-income housing, or volunteering at nursing homes or veteran centers, for example. This "giving back" to the community would reinforce Professor Schwartz’s view that we are all part of the human family and we gain meaning in our lives through service to others.

An activity using this aphorism in the classroom was completed by my sixth grade Literature class at Greenwich Catholic School. The grade decided to express the ‘true meaning’ of Christmas by bypassing the holiday gift giving and donating their gifts to a local charity of the children’s choice. Then, each child wrote an essay on the ‘true meaning’ of Christmas and related their experience to the activity performed. This truly put Morrie’s proverb to work.

Faith and Trust

“You see,” he says to the girl, “you closed your eyes. That was the difference. Sometimes you cannot believe what you see; you have to believe what you feel. And if you are ever going to have other people trust you, you must feel that you can trust them, too -- even when you’re in the dark. Even when you’re falling.” (p. 61)

There is an old saying concerning trust and faith: "Fake it till you make it." This means that trust and faith can be learned. Trusting others is more difficult for some people than others. Trust, then, is the basis for all