“There isn’t anyone you couldn’t love once you’ve heard their story. ”
I am a teacher.
Long before the 2016 Presidential election, I believed in kindness and character. I believed in books to build empathy and perspective, to break down walls that divide "us" and "them." I believed building relationships is the key to a classroom community and the risk-taking that comes when everyone feels accepted and safe.
There is so much noise everywhere now.
So much hate and name-calling and painting huge groups of people with labels. Labels create distance and dehumanize the very people you are describing. If we were to sit with each other, over a cup of tea, could we not find some common ground? If we were to listen to each others stories, might we not empathize, at least a bit?
Maybe it is Pollyanna to think that way. Maybe many of the adults of this generation are too far gone, too steeped in opinions and hate, too certain of being right to entertain the idea that someone else's truth might be worth considering. Maybe there will be no bridge-building now, no olive branches, no compromises.
I grew up listening to my staunch Republican grandfather debate my mostly liberal dad over a bowl of pasta at Sunday dinner. Sometimes there were raised voices, but there was always respect. There were handshakes and laughter after- they were people who cared about each other, acknowledging that they had different philosophies and, at the end of the day, that was okay. It used to feel safe to see things differently than someone- you could still like each other and even respect each other, knowing that you disagreed. It doesn't feel like this is the case anymore.
But back to being a teacher.
Today, my third graders sat down in a circle at our Morning Meeting. Normally, we do a simple greeting where each child says hello to the child next to him/her, by name. This morning, I challenged my students to think about a little known fact about themselves to share with the class. We all shared something we thought others might not know about us...part of our story.
Our poem of the week was Shel Silverstein's Hug O' War. I noted that Silverstein repeated "everyone" many times during the poem- why did they think he did that? Students answered, "because everyone should be together."
After our poem, we talked about our word of the week- "empathetic". What does it mean to feel someone's feelings in your own heart? How does that influence how you treat others? We discussed why being empathetic would be a positive trait to possess.
Finally, at the end of our Morning Meeting, I read aloud the beautiful (and sad) book Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson. Each kind act, done or undone, has ripples in the world.
Tomorrow, Trudy Ludwig will visit our school. Trudy's books are powerful examples of kindness and ways to positively express yourself and your feelings.
I hope all these experiences are like seeds that will take root in my students' hearts. I hope they will choose kindness whenever they can and take the time to hear another's story without slapping a label on the person, dehumanizing them.
I am a teacher, and this is what I can do. I can teach my students to listen to each other, to be empathetic, to choose kindness. I can do my best to model these actions, to listen before I snap to judgement, to show respect to everyone, to create a classroom where everyone's voice matters.
As Ram Dass said, "We are all just walking each other home."