Sunday, June 10, 2018

Thoughts on Thriving and Suffering Behind Walls

In my book, Dear Teachers, I wrote the following essay focusing on the walls students construct. I felt the need to look at it again today in regards to the everyday living of all people. You, me...everyone.

"April- Week 34- The Heart Within

“No man for any considerable period can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.”
- Nathaniel Hawthorne

Faces are walls. Barricades. Facades.

We all build them from time to time and to varying degrees. It feels safer to hide.

Some of the students we meet have epic skills in this, honed by years of experience. It is perhaps the teacher’s most challenging task to massage these walls and tease out the mortar and stones that have been used from abject need. We all want to survive; for many, a constructed face is an effective, if crude, way to do that. We do it as field triage in moments of hardship and necessity. Unfortunately, it’s a pattern of behavior that can be carried into and throughout adulthood, affecting all facets of our lives along the way.

If we hide long enough, the act becomes the actor’s reality. The effective cocoon clasped so tightly around the genuine heart may eventually suffocate the very thing we sought to protect in the first place. We are then left a weakened shell, like an oak whose heartwood has been consumed.

That authentic heart is the unique and golden center of Self. It deserves the freedom to feel the sun’s full warmth."

After the essay, I ask the reader to consider what is at their heart and what sorts of walls have they put up. As part of my book follow-up that I did over the course of last school year, I wrote this essay in reflection, entitled The Heart Within:

"I just finished writing a big essay on my main blog, called Spring and the Death of Denial. It was in response to a fantastic conversation on a philosophical radio program called On Being. Now, I’m hopping back into Dear Teachers, and am struck by how this week’s essay, the last of the April focus on what’s really there, connects to that.

When we don’t want people to see who and what we really are, we throw up defenses. When we don’t trust the people that surround us, we again build barriers. Within those walls, we are one thing. Outside of those walls, we are something else.

To grow, we first have to admit the walls exist within all of us. They come from our families and traditions. From our own pasts. From our own needs. From our own fears.

In this week’s essay, the image from Marlene that I chose was a close-up of a lily in full bloom. The center of that flower is bright yellow, while the outer edges are a deep red, trimmed in that same golden hue. We don’t get to see the full complexity of that bloom until it really opens up. How can we get ourselves blooming like that? How can we get each one of our students to bloom like that?

The walls that separate us from both our true selves and from each other have to come down.

I wrote, “If we hide long enough, the act becomes the actor’s reality.”. By that I meant that every single one of us is affected by all these walls we build. If I don’t reach out beyond the walls I was born into or have built myself, I miss out on understanding the real beauty of both myself and others. Others miss out on my gifts. We both are lessened. We’re like the bud in the background of Marlene’s shot: there, but not yet gorgeously exposed.

As Rev. williams pointed out in her talk, this work is hard. Sitting with who and what we really are is tough. But, in my mind, it’s critical to getting our world’s garden to really bloom."

The Nathaniel Hawthorne quote claims that no one can truly lie to themselves to the very end. From our perspective, some people appear to never sway from their own sense of reality, safely encapsulated within their constructed fortresses. I find solace in Rev. angel Williams kyoto’s thoughts that even the “winners” in unfair situations are suffering from the very systems they’ve benefited from and cultivated. Those behind castle walls are not truly free. I can see such truth, if begrudgingly, in that.

My thoughts and writing here came from a hopeful opinion that we all start from a child-like, wonder-filled place. It’s what we face from madly ego-driven minds that damages and alienates us. If society is set up to support the child-like spirit, the need for walls will get less and less. If we set things up to allow all hearts to bloom, we will all benefit.

To reach a place where the child-like can thrive will require extremely hard work. Some have begun, and the tools are out there for all to pick up.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

6 Choices to Improve our Speech Game

As I’m always going on about how we need each other, and how I insist that we’re stronger together, I thought it was time that I examine 6 specific choices we can make that will allow this to happen. I’m interested in physical and mental health care, education and k-pop. I believe this actions can help in all these arenas- and beyond.

 PLEASE NOTE: If you want to just skip the reading, scroll down to the awesome video from Teaching Tolerance on Countering Online Hate Speech.

1. Believe everyone deserves space to speak.

Whatever your size, shape, skin tone, sex, sexual orientation or preferences, religion, political opinions, ethnicity- you name it: you deserve a space to speak. We may not agree with each other, but we both deserve the opportunity to state our cases. If we follow the other ideas I list below, we should be able to coexist. We may get along life BFFs. We may choose to disagree and have little to do with each other. Or, we may choose to see where we can work together despite our differences. Whatever the case, neither of us should try to silence the other.

2. Acknowledge everyone deserves space to be.

Ever want to just run away from it all and hide? Believe that you deserve the space you’re in. Breathe in that fact and exhale the fear and/or anger talking. Ever feel like that other person should just go and die? Believe that they deserve the space they’re in just as much. Breathe in that truth and exhale the fear and/or anger talking. You and that “other” person are both human beings. As bystanders, if we see someone trying to silence another, we should calmly and directly say, “I think __ has the right to their opinion and I think what you’re saying is hurtful/sexist/etc.”. If we see someone run in fear, we should calmly and directly say, “I think you have the right to your opinion. I told them I think what they said was hurtful/racist/etc.”.

3. Think and speak with “we” in mind.

No one likes to be looked down upon. We should talk in ways that keep us looking at each other eye-to-eye. You may not believe it, but the way we say things affects how others take in what we say. Choices like “You people need to…” and “You women should just…” kill respect, light fuses and try to place the speaker as someone high up in a fortress, looking down on those they are addressing. Switching it around to “I think we could…” or “I disagree with that opinion…” will still get our point across. I used both “you” and “I/we” in this paragraph. Which sentences made you feel more more relaxed or more defensive?

4. Choose to meet face-to-face.

 I’m really tired of the phrase “keyboard warrior”. As I’m exploring in my book for those with type 1 diabetes, the term “warrior” does not need to mean a vicious, cut-throat and cloaked vigilant. It’s true that we can do/say things behind the anonymity of a screen that we might not do in public. That’s why meeting with and talking with people directly is vital to our humanity. The students behind the March for Our Lives are doing this over the summer, with their cross-country bus tour Road to Change. Coffee shops, concerts, conventions- even video conferencing like VLive or on our phones- anywhere were we see and hear each other in real-time can build our connections with others, helping us see the other points I’ve outlined so far. The keyboard time can be turned toward building those relationships, too, so we become warriors standing in solidarity against hardships and things, not each other.

5. Understand that opinions are biases, not facts.

I’ve emphasized “opinion” here, because what we think and feel cause most of our wild behaviors. What about facts? Facts can be used as weapons to stoke opinions. I’m reminded of the amazing reply that Adam Savage gave to the question, “What’s your biggest science no-no?”. His reply: “Bias.”. Facts shouldn’t be affected our attitudes; at their root, they simply are what they are. It’s vital to look at facts calmly and ask ourselves what is the exact truth involved, and what is what we feel or wish. I can say, “---- are kings!” and cite data to support. The data are facts proving some relative influence in the world, but my original statement is purely biased opinion. I can say, “Politicians are killing people with T1D” and cite data on insulin prices. The prices are facts but my original statement is simply my opinion to get my point across that we as a country need to look at health care. We should clearly label each other’s and our own biased opinions.

6. Instead of seeking a victory, practice forgiving. Or at least, forgetting.

When we feel attacked, our instinct can be to retaliate or run. When we read something that ticks us off, our knee jerk reaction might be to “put that person in their place”. Even when we reach out to defend someone in need, we need to remember these other points I’ve outlined and not seek another’s annihilation. Hurting others keeps that destructive cycle going and should not be an used- even if we feel justified and tempted to use it in the defense of someone else.

Forgiveness. If we can’t manage that, let’s choose forgetting and calmly walking away. Those options remind us that we all make mistakes and there’s hope for eventual change. They remind that we all have baggage. That none of us is superior to another. That no one is a lost cause and we can all someday, somewhere, help someone out and do something good.

We’re never going to eliminate all the negatives in humanity. But we can reduce their influence by the choices we make every day. As in parenting, kickback from those soaked in these destructive behaviors will occur when we begin. However, if we persist, support and work together, we can make positive changes.

Helpful links from Teaching Tolerance:

Teaching Tolerance Countering Online Hate Speech This is a great video with specific examples and sample responses to use when we encounter hate speech online.

How Does "Fake" News Become News? This is a light-hearted but informational video detailing how confirmation bias and filter bubbles affect what information we tend to believe and spread. If your social media are negative, you have built it that way. With help from this video, you can change it, too!