Authentic Leadership Lessons From The Dead Poets Society – What will your verse be?
This past week I was in Ottawa visiting my daughter, Hayley, who is proudly starting her teaching career in a Montessori high school. She finished her dual degree in Education and Arts this past year and is a passionate, purpose-driven new teacher.
In our conversations I asked Hayley about her vision for herself as a new educator. She referred me to a scene in Peter Weir’s 1989 wonderful film, Dead Poets Society. Set in 1959 at the fictional elite conservative Vermont boarding school, Welton Academy, it tells the story of an English teacher who inspires his students through his teaching of poetry. Hayley was inspired by the movie when we watched it many years ago. In one scene, John Keating (played by Robin Williams) teaches his pupils the reason for reading and writing poetry by quoting Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.
“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute,” explains the teacher. “We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering; these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love; these are what we stay alive for.”
To paraphrase Whitman:
“O me! O life! of the questions of these recurring.
Of the endless trains of the faithless.
Of cities filled with the foolish…
What good amid these, O me! O life?
Answer: That you are here. That life exists and identity.
That the powerful play goes on, And you may contribute a verse.
That the powerful play goes on, And you may contribute a verse.”
The teacher then stopped and asked his students to reflect upon a life-changing question: “What will your verse be?”
The scene has applicability not only for high achieving high school students but also for those who are committed to live authentically. Authenticity asks us to look within our heart and soul, and to stop long enough to ask the tough questions:
- What is it that you care most deeply about?
- What in your life is calling you – beyond what others expect from you?
- How aligned are you with the life you are meant to be living?
- What’s the difference between living in the midst of the tyranny of the urgent, and living with a sense of purpose?
- What do you most need to do in your life?
- How are you supporting others to find their voice?
What will your verse be?