Opening Day Remarks
by Scott Mattoon
You are likely familiar with slogans using the verb "be":
the change you want to see in the world
Don't worry, be happy
Well, I want to introduce one at Maimo. It may not be as snappy or clever as these others, but it is authentic to who we are, and how we aim to live.
Repeat after me: Be intrinsic!
For those who may not know, "intrinsic" means belonging to the natural and essential part of something - in this case, the natural and essential part of YOU.
To help spread the word - literally, this word "instrinsic" - I want to challenge you to use it when your parents see you after school this week. When they ask - and you know they will ask - "How was school today?," you can look them in the eye and say, "Be instrinsic!" That will be one of the most unique responses they will have heard to that question.
So what does it FEEL like to be instrinsic?
Think back to the summer...
Think back to one thing that you did - an activity, a task, a pursuit, whatever it was...
It must be something that you LOVED doing...
And it must be something that no one else said you had to do...
Think back to what that was...
Chances are, part of why you loved doing it is that you were good at it - that you felt confident in what you were doing.
What did it take to get there?
Likely it started with an initial interest sparked by something outside of you, or even inside of you, like a gift, a skill, a talent that is natural to you.
Then came hard work and a positive attitude, believing you can get better.
Then came mistakes - even failure, which is an important part of this process.
Then came learning.
Then came improving.
Then came growing and maturing.
Then - and this is key - came confidence - authentic confidence...
The kind of confidence that is lasting because of the effort, resilience, mastery, and satisfaction that come with it...
The kind of confidence that is peaceful and enthusiastic at the same time, because you can do something well on your own.
That's what "intrinsic" feels like, and it is undeniably good for us because it authentically defines who we are.
But what kinds of things get in the way of being intrinsic, or being who we really are?
There are numerous pressures outside of us.
These are not intrinsic forces; they are extrinsic forces.
These forces can make it easy to feel like we need them in order to define who we are.
These extrinsic forces aren't necessarily bad - in fact, they can be very good. As one example, competition for extrinsic validation and reward is not a bad thing.
But too much focus on extrinsic validation and reward is not a healthy thing.
It is not healthy because it shifts the kind of importance we place on ourselves to forces outside of us, to forces over which we don't have much control.
If we pay too much attention to these extrinsic forces, if we derive too much of our own worth from these extrinsic forces, our genuine, intrinsic selves get quashed and squashed.
If these extrinsic forces are the ONLY thing, that's a bad thing.
And this is why:
If we feed the idea that the ONLY way in which our worth is defined is through things outside of ourselves, imagine what that means for our inside, intrinsic selves. It means our intrinsic selves are underfed, malnourished, even starving. If we let ourselves be too heavily defined by our extrinsic forces, our intrinsic selves will be left hollow, and it will shrivel and leave us in a dark, deep hole of emptiness, of anxiety, of depression.
If we go through our entire time at Maimo focusing ONLY on extrinsic validation and reward, thinking that the only things that matter are:
- which course we're in
- which friends we hang out with
- which town we live in
- which kehillah we're in
- what clothes we wear
- which college or yeshiva program we gain admission to
...then what does that mean for us when we leave Maimo and head to Israel, to college, and beyond? If we feed only extrinsic forces, will we have enough of a sense of our genuine, intrinsic selves, of who we really are and what our intrinsic worth is? Will we be authentically confident in what we can do on our own to be able to move forward in life, feeling good about where we are and where we are heading, not letting circumstances define us - instead, defining our circumstances as best we can?
If we feed our intrinsic selves enough, we will not be anxious about the future because we are confident in what we bring to it.
So, what are some things we can do to keep a healthy balance, to feed our intrinsic selves more often?
Here are some to-do's to keep yourselves from overfeeding extrinsic forces, and to lead you to nourishing your intrinsic selves:
- Make a list of things you LOVE to do... and find time to do them.
- Make a list of things you want to learn to do... and work hard for them, allowing your selves to make mistakes along the way so you may grow from them and let these pursuits become a part of who you are.
- PUT DOWN YOUR SMARTPHONE MORE OFTEN. This device, while wonderful in many ways, also forces you - even gets you addicted in your brain chemistry - to be validated and rewarded only by extrinsic forces.
- Focus on attaining authentic confidence through the challenge found in striving for mastery in your courses. Don't obsess over the course level you are in, as this over-emphasizes a phantom extrinsic validation of how much you are learning, when really you will learn the most and most effectively at the right "gear" for you. Nothing fosters authentic, peaceful, and enthusiastic confidence like pushing yourself, and allowing yourself to be pushed by your teachers, to know your stuff very well, at whatever level that can happen best.
- Do something kind or helpful for someone else, but do not tell anyone that you did it. This action of service is channeling an action of gratitude, of hakarat hatov, and the more you do this, the more you fill yourself up with intrinsic well-being.
Here's to a wonderful year ahead - one full of intrinsic value!