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Practicing, Not Preaching, the Work of Love

February 16, 2018

I have been vacillating wildly these past few weeks–and even more in the past few days–between two views of humanity:

  • that people are inherently good, helpful, want to love and be loved, have flaws and can be redeemed, and
  • that people suck.

Whenever my team teacher had students read Enlightenment philosophers, students inevitably sided with Hobbes:  that humans in their natural state were violent, afraid, and that life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”  They had no use for Rousseau’s idealized state of nature, or even Locke or Montesquieu.

When events occur like the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, I am inclined to agree with Hobbes–not because of the violence of the perpetrator, though that is horrifying.  Because of the comments and attitudes afterward.

My students, in their conversation today about the school shooting, reported what they had seen on social media or heard from others at our own high school:  people making comments that joked about, derided, or condescended toward victims, toward the idea of school violence in general.  As evidenced by my students’ and my own observations about reactions to this shooting, or any other violent act, or any comments on any article online anywhere, people are thoughtless, rude, closed-minded, self-righteous, and ignorant.

And then things happen like this:  I got to help students at my school prepare for our second annual Diversity Assembly:  a completely student-created, student-organized, student-led celebration of diversity, acceptance, and allyship.  I watched three student leaders invite, include, and create this assembly from the ground up in two and a half weeks.  I watched five students grip their speeches and stand on shaky legs and speak their truths about who they are and how we can all be better allies to those who feel marginalized.

And then I find out about some of my own students’ incredibly poor choices, choices that are hurtful and disrespectful and directly oppose everything I’ve been trying to teach them about empathy and awareness.

And then my kids’ first grade teacher made booklets for each of her students, and each page in that booklet contained a note from every kid and adult in their class.  My heart melted when I read what their classmates, teacher, and instructional aide wrote to each of my kiddos–even to the kid who often has problematic behavior in school.

I’ve been swinging back and forth between these two ends of the spectrum of human nature, when of course in my core I know the truth:  that we can be both good, helpful, kind, redeemable AND rude, thoughtless, cold-hearted, condescending.  As much as I would love to think that I walk the walk of open-mindedness that I preach, I know I often fall miserably short.

I will come back to center, to the Middle Way, as usual.  I need to remember to practice everything I preach, including love and open-mindedness and heartful listening, even when it is damn hard.  Even when it feels impossible.

I need to remember what I told my student who feared backlash after her speech at the Diversity Assembly:  “because there’s always backlash,” she said, “even if it’s just one person being a jerk.”

I told her what keeps me going as a teacher, and if I were to generalize, as a person:  that we plant seeds.  We likely will never witness their growth, if they grow at all.  We may never know the impact our words or actions or example has on another person.  We just have faith that those seeds will blossom eventually, in a month or in five years or after decades.  The faith in the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).

This faith in our human-ness neither condones nor mitigates these unnecessary and unconscionable deaths, and it does not supplant my fury at those in power who do not act in any way, small or large, to prevent such acts of violence.  The only thing it does is make me able to face my children, my students, members of my community, and keep doing the work of love.

Which, for this moment, must be enough.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Mary Jane Mulholland permalink
    February 17, 2018 6:27 am

    Michelle, I always love to read your blog. You are so thoughtful and earnest, always reaching toward the light. 💐✨❤️

  2. Arnold Sherman permalink
    February 17, 2018 4:33 am

    Insightful observations on the human condition, Michelle. Thank you for posting! A colleague, who, like me, has been a long-time Church Musician, said once: “I’m in this profession mostly because of the people. But if I ever leave this field of endeavor, it will be because of the people.”

    My approach to my fellow oh-so-human beings is simple: I choose to use the Force.

    Now if I just had a light saber…😁

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