Saturday, February 5, 2022

With Teacher and Student

“No. It’s stupid.”
“It doesn’t mean anything.”
“None of my friends are voting.”
“Who cares. It just makes people angry.”
“I’ll just vote for all Trump people. He was funny as hell.”

These were the adamant protestations of my 18-year-old son about voting this year- a typical mixture of honesty, avoidance, and defiance.

As I think back over my life and consider how I would have responded to these statements at different ages and stages, I see more clearly how I and my thinking have evolved. That evolution has been made possible by the people I have been exposed to and the life stories they have shared.

That includes people I have been in direct contact with and those I only know of from a distance. Chance meetings, friendships, disagreements, classes, books, presentations, TV shows, and arts- they all add up to who I am today.

In every encounter, each person can be, and perhaps should be, both teacher and student.

Daniel Tatum said something to that effect to Celeste Headlee in her book, Speaking of Race and it has stuck with me. I can learn where my son is right now as he speaks. I can tell of my own experiences. We can both listen and take in each other’s truths as best as we can. We can ask each other how we have come to think what we do. Perhaps, the interaction will nudge one or both of us in a slightly different direction.

What we are all going through now is not anything completely new to the world, but each day is new to us. It’s a new opportunity. It’s a chance for us to take comfort in the fact that we’re all imperfect, but we can be both bigger and more whole in the future by learning and teaching with each other every day.


That’s a big word in a little package. To be with someone or something is to be beside- not above or below. Not that you’re the same- but you are there in body, mind, and spirit. Another word that springs to mind is: empathy.

Can I empathize with my son?

Yes. Or, I could belittle and push my own desires.

Can I empathize with a stranger?

Yes. Or, I could belittle and push my own desires.

Can I empathize with a forest?

Yes. Or, I could belittle and push my own desires.

If I had you, perhaps I lost you on that last one. I do believe an ecosystem has something that one can be with. That’s the subject for another time, but I wanted to offer it for those who might be ready to consider. If it’s too much, it’s OK to step back from the idea. We can give each other some respectful space.

That’s how we learn and grow.

Did I like my son’s reactions? No. Did I feel the urge to belittle and push my own desires? Yes. I tried to both understand his point of view and offer my own. Did I change his mind? No. But perhaps, not yet.

Not yet.