Reflection

Criticism can be difficult to deal with.  We all want to believe the best about ourselves.  It may be that the cricism is false and/or unwarranted, it may be right on the money, or somewhere in between.  It’s always a mistake to just ignore it however, because there is little chance for you to become a wise person.  The act of reflection is important to the process of change even if you decide that the criticism was false.  I’ve always been one to reflect very deeply on my emotions and it has always led to more understanding about myself and about others.

In those moments in which realize you still have a lot of growing to do one gets filled with a moment of sadness, but one has only to remind oneself that we are all on a journey and that we have to forgive ourselves for not being exactly who we want to be.  My sense of self-worth is perhaps as strong as anyone and it constantly fights to surprise the virtue of humility.  One day I would like to incorporate humility into my sense of self-worth, instead of forgetting to be humble.  For now I will have to have to be proud of the fact that through reflection I can recognize my weaknesses and have faith that I will change for the better as I feel I have always done in the past.

Advertisements

Valuing Life: Death Part II

One of the unexpected things that happened when I realized that I was an atheist was that I began to have a greater respect for life.  I know the existence of an afterlife cannot be disproven, but neither can it be proven and so if this is the only existence we have, and death means non-existence, then appreciating this existence is paramount.  I know that being atheist isn’t a pre-requisite for an appreciation for existence, but that’s just how it happened for me (not that I was ever in support of violence).   I realize also that I am in an economic position in life to enjoy it much more than others but it is often surprising to me how often poor people are happier and more generous than those with wealth.  There is something to the old adage “Take joy in the simple things in life”.  Nevertheless there are those beyond just being poor.  Countless millions who do not get their daily need for food and water met.  If one values life then it should be our first and foremost goal to lift all those up to enjoy the marvels of existence.

When someone says they value life, it is often unclear what they mean.  First of all, what do we define as life?  Some people just seem to mean human life.   Some value other animals as well.  For some it is just certain animals that we think of as pets, but not ones that we use for food.  This tends to vary by culture.  Some value the life of animals, provided that they die without suffering and are treated

From http://www.jigzone.com

humanely in their life.  Some value the life of an animal based on how close to a human it is, and are okay with ending the life of simpler creatures.  Finally some value all animals and only eat vegetables.  Why is plant life less important?  Should feelings, or the fact that they are part of Kingdom Animalia at all be the deciding factor on how valuable life is?  As I have argued before that whenever we put value on life just because of its similarity to us, there is a certain human conceit there that I am not so sure is healthy.

For those that value human life, even that is inconsistent.  It is clear that we humans have a different line of reasoning when it comes to the harming of those that we deem innocent.  People often get much more outraged at a mistreated animal, or the abortion of a fetus, than a mistreated adult.     But we were all children once.  A child who is taught to hate minorities will become an adult who hates minorities.  If that adult commits a hate crime, why do we hate him back, call for his punishment, or even death.   In reality he is simply just an older child who was never taught to see the value in all people and that we are all brothers and sisters on this planet.  It is akin to me being upset at someone for not knowing calculus.  How could they if they were never taught?  It always seems to be assumed that as an adult we have choices to just change the way we think in an instant.  This is clearly not true, and in fact it gets harder as you get older, not easier.

From tardis.wikia.com

The biggest paradox I see for those people who are both “pro-life” in relation to abortion, is that they tend to be conservative in their views on capital punishment, war, and gun control.   Abortion is a tough issue, no question, and one where I truly understand the “pro-life” point of view.  What is clear to me is that no legislation should force a woman to go through something that profoundly effects her body, and for which there is no such equivalent or societal requirement on the father.  And the cold reality of the matter is; mothers ending the lives of their infants are a natural part of our psychology.  It is uncomfortable to accept such a cold fact as this, partially because it almost makes no sense in a modern society.  It is important to remember though that most of our evolution did not take place in civilization, but in the wild.  And in the wild resources are often scarce and raising a child, as anybody even today will admit, takes a lot of resources.  So in our brains when we feel like the child is not going to be able to get the support it needs, women will make the logical choice of abortion.  There is some logic to it.  Yes I said it.  Our brains are not programmed for birth control; our brains are not programmed for a society in which adoption is possible.  In the end, our world is the one right in front of us and in that moment ending an unwanted pregnancy is sensible.  This is why abortion rates are lowest in countries with adequate health care for all citizens, especially mothers, easy access to birth control, and plenty of education about sex and the consequences thereof.   Then of course there is the issue of whether a fetus counts as life, counts as human?  I don’t think that it can be answered anytime soon.  All I know is that it is not my place to decide what happens to an embryo inside a womb in the first 15 weeks of pregnancy.

From talkingpointsmemo.com

But if I weep for an aborted baby, then why do I not weep for all those people killed in war, shot down by gun violence, sent to the electric chair, or for even that matter the 20,000 people who die every day from hunger.  The answer comes down to the fact that killing is serious business and we have to justify it.  Perhaps abortion is just killing that we have justified.  But then it is no less immoral than any other killing that we find acceptable.  If we can justify abortion based on the grounds that it is not a child so early in development, then is it not the same reasoning we use for any other type of killing we support and even call for?  It comes down to dehumanizing people.  Whether it’s Muslims, criminals, poor people, minorities…whenever we say that any human life has less value then our own you will find things like abuse, torture, and killing.  Dehumanizing at a fundamental level involves two things.  First is the stripping away of things like the individuality of a person (i.e.  All Muslims hate Americans).  Secondly it focuses on making out their desires to always be about negative things.  Things that we consider the worst qualities of humanity or just the opposition of the virtues that we value most highly in our species.   So we can say “All Muslims hate freedom”, rather than suggesting that they are more like us than different, and that all Muslims want is to have a livelihood, take care of their families and have self-determination in their lives.  Something we all want.

This same reasoning can be applied to how many people think of the poor, other races, political affiliations, criminals, etc.  It concerns me that in this country that there seems to be a decreasing value placed on life.  The Travyon Martin case exemplifies this all too well.  Not just about his murder (it is at the very least manslaughter) itself but by the “Stand Your Ground” law.  If being threatened is enough to justify killing another human being then I think we need to seriously address this philosophy in our society.  Something must have gone wrong somewhere for such a law to even be proposed. Should someone’s existence end for stealing a television set?  There was a recent story about a woman who shot at a car for turning around near her driveway.  There were 4 children in the car and children could have been shot.  Luckily the bullets only hit the car.  The woman’s explanation was that her driveway was getting ruined because people were turning around on it all the time.  What does it say about our society when something so trivial as a driveway takes precedence over life?

From http://www.screen-wallpapers.com

As far as we know it, death is the very end.  Even if it isn’t, this existence must have value or we would not be born into it.   We must therefore question ALL killing.  We must be forgiving and believe in redemption.  We must look at a human as a product of his experiences rather than a creature who always has the power to make conscious choices to do acts of good and evil.  This planet teems with life and we are connected to it all.  Nothing that lives has more right to life than anything else, and yet killing is also natural whether it is for food or for protection.  As a species we have the ability to kill with the strength and power like no other species, but we also have the equal ability to find alternatives to killing.  The latter should always be our goal.  We should be continually striving to find ways to survive that do not deny the right to life of others even if killing happens along the way.

Death Part I

My first experience with death happened when I was 5 years old.  Sadly my cousin who was 2 died in a trailer fire.  It is safe to say that I really didn’t understand what death meant.   Like many children I was a bit selfish, and perhaps somewhat used to a life where for the first 3 years I was the oldest grandchild and was likely doted upon, and I felt resentful of my younger cousin who always seemed to get first helpings of things like watermelon or cake, even though I was also hungry and, in my own opinion, more important.  It’s safe to say I did not care for her.  I remember distinctly my aunts and uncles sitting around looking quite sad obviously.  Then I opened my big mouth and said “Well who cares no one will miss her anyway.”  To this day I don’t know why I didn’t get a severe beating, but I am thankful for the wisdom of my elders for recognizing that I was only a child and didn’t understand.  One of my uncles simply looked at me and said “Well what if you died, and we said ‘Well who cares no one will miss him anyway?’ “  The words made me understand, as is often the case, when we turn the things we say upon ourselves we can sometimes see their true measure.   To this day, I find it hard to forgive myself for uttering those words.  Understanding grief like I do now, even coming from a 5 year old, those words I uttered had to hurt.  I’ve carried those words for a long time, and if there is no sympathy for a foolish child, then at least know that I truly believed it shaped me into a more compassionate adult.

I can safely say that at the time, however, the gravity of death wasn’t something I completely understood.  It’s not easy to really understand when you’re very young and have so much growing yet to do.  The world is full of adults and so it seems impossible that you won’t at least make it to the age of your parents or aunts and uncles.   I’ve always liked the saying “death is an important part of life”.  Because ultimately it’s true as paradoxical as it sounds.  We have a beginning and an end.  And while we are barely conscious at the beginning (which is really a shame to be robbed of remembering that experience of coming out into the world for the first time), death is something we are all too conscious of.

One could argue that life and death are the only true things that we know in this world.  We are alive in this plane of existence and eventually that life will end.  Now many believe in an afterlife and that’s fine, but ultimately that requires faith, but I believe that everyone, somewhere at their core, has a seed of doubt about the afterlife, even if they don’t want to admit it.  Few people can freely give up their life here for the afterlife.  Those that do still believe that their last earthly act will have an impact of value in this existence, and thus are still, at least in some sense, grounded here.  Of course many of those people one could arguably say are crazy (i.e. suicide

From http://www.mediabistro.com

bombers).  Others, while heroes, when they give their life they do so to preserve it for others and I would argue the afterlife is still not their primary goal.  It seems to me that notions of an afterlife regardless of whether they have a punitive or rewarding nature are simply but another to try and cheat the evitable.  Non-existence.

As natural as death is, it is clear that all life fights it.  The will to live and survive is in every creature, and as humans our awareness of death means we are much greater fighters than many other species.  Life is the battle against death.  In any other situation one is unlikely to enter any battle they know they will lose, but this battle is one we never asked to be in, one that we have to fight, and so all we can do is make the best of it.  It does no good to focus on this inevitability, when you do life becomes much more pallid.

I think it’s also interesting though that when you don’t worry so much about death, you start to see that survival really only involves living.  And that if you focus on how to live better, then you start winning that battle against death in a much more meaningful way.  You will still lose in the end, but you are at least fighting with honor and dignity.  The value we place on life (not only our own) has a lot to say, I believe, about how we behave in this world and this will be the subject of a later blog.

Agrajag: Learning in Theory and Practice

I continue to learn from my newest teacher as I respond to her wonderfully provocative post. I am hoping if I give her an apple she will let me erase the boards. 🙂

I also agree that being defenseless is not the goal.  I see it as rather as a side effect of our intelligence.  Evolutionarily we are attracted to “defenseless”, which is why we go gooey over babies in general for many animal species.  Part of our success as a species also has to do with our longevity in age.  Having multiple generations alive at one time to possible pass on knowledge indicates how important learning is to us.  A defenseless baby is sort of a captive audience as well.  Even once it can walk it is still very dependent on adults and this gives it more time to learn from them in addition to the learning it does through during it’s own individual exploration.

From http://www.thecampuscompanion.com

Ultimately you hit on a very important point and that is the value of learning in of itself.  I think there are a number of people who are fascinated by this topic and who do very good research on this, but ultimately little of it is implemented.  There are a lot of reasons for this and sadly many of them have to do with the values of the society.  In societies where education is valued, they are much more likely to spend resources on best teaching practices.  Ultimately many of the best teaching practices require smaller class sizes so the teacher has the opportunity for more individualized instruction.  Classrooms also require ample resources so there is equity amongst schools in terms of equipment and teacher quality.  Finally when schools do not have to compete for funding they can be much more collaborative when it comes to sharing best practices instead of being competitive.  Often in the U.S. it is not a benefit to share these best practices with other schools because it means less funding for your school. Here in the U.S  education is not valued.  Class sizes increase, schools constantly compete for an ever shrinking amount of funding, and there is great disparity amongst schools in terms of resources and quality of teacher.  Investigation and creativity are sacrificed for standardized testing and rote memorization.

In my experience, it seems like, part of the reasons many students find school boring is that it simply isn’t stimulating to them intellectually because young minds are so adept at learning that the rate in which information is taught simply doesn’t challenge them.  One of the great things that Dr. Mitra’s hole in the wall experiment shows is that young children can learn at incredible rates when given the opportunity.  Children really, really want to learn.  But we dole out the information incrementally and slowly, and Dr.  Mitra demonstrates that this is not necessary.  In the U.S. parents often rail against students having hours of a homework at night, even though very often those assignments allow students to do more investigative type assignments outside of the classroom.  With class sizes increasing, teachers often hold back on assignments too as their workload increases dramatically or they fear they will not be able to give adequate feedback to the students for improvement.

From http://www.excelsiorlearningcenter.com

The type of learning that I connect with most is Mastery Learning.  I think if we accepted that children can learn at an accelerated rate and set the bar high for children from the very start of their education, then as we incorporate Dr. Mitra’s exploratory learning concept in with quality teachers who can work with students under this format we’d have the start of something great.  I agree though that learning in of itself is not necessarily something we should treat as static and yet it very much has in a lot of ways.  We should be constantly evaluating our strategies and adapting to knew technologies and the greater understanding we have gained about how we learn.  In an ideal world I would love to see everyone learn a second language so that by the time they are about 12 they are fluent in another language.

So I shall end as I began in a word about evolution.  From an evolutionary perspective we only really need to learn enough to survive.  Reading, writing, math and science, these are all things that for 99% of our evolution we did not need to do.  We are meant to learn though.  And that wonderful emergent property of consciousness makes us aware of how much we love it, and I think this is evidenced by civilization itself.  Civilization is not required for the survival of our species, but we have it.  It gives us the time to ponder, question, and learn about things we never could before.  The saddest thing I see as an educator here in the U.S. is that as a society with so much access to information and time enough to learn and absorb it, learning and education is rejected instead of valued.  Maybe it’s because education is run as a business model instead of a learning model.  Those who would make educational policy are rarely teachers and while they say they care about the outcomes rarely listen to teachers and only care about the bottom line in terms of dollars and cents.

Heroes

Recently Jon Stewart had a man named Andrew Harper on the show who works for the U.N. in a refugee camp in Jordan.  The area of course is flooded with refugees from Syria.  Jon talked about how much of a hero this guy is for doing this every day.  It can’t be easy.

From Heroes Wiki

An interest concept to me is the idea of a hero.  It feels like to me that those we laud as heroes are often not the ones we should.  Maybe this is cultural and is not true everywhere.  Is there such a thing as a true hero or is it always subjective to a particular person or culture?  I am sure most would agree that the latter is more the case. Although I always find it interesting how much people want to get you to appreciate what they consider a hero.  Maybe it’s the same sort of mentality that convinces someone to push a belief system on you.

The subjectivity of a hero made me think about military heroes.  I find this to be the be a bit paradoxical at times.  In the U.S. there is a strong emphasis over all others to consider those in the military as heroes.  It occurs to me that an enemy to a warring nation has their heroes too, so can the person that kills Americans be a hero and also the American who kills the enemy be a hero?  Who has the moral authority?  The one that wins the war? Of course each side would not consider the other to have heroes even though arguable both fighters would be brave, adept, strong, etc.   There is also a strange dichotomy between those in the military and then the larger context of the war itself.  There is no doubt in my mind that the men and women are brave and heroic for being willing to put their life on the line.  But what if the war is unjust?  I am sure Nazi Germany had their heroes; ones that were elevated to hero status for killing the most allied soldiers or even killing the most Jews.  In the context of their fight those people were heroes.  We of course would not view them as such.

In Shakespeare’s Henry V, King Henry pretends to be a soldier and walks among his men to gather their mood.  At one point he questions one of his men, well what if the cause be unjust?  The man simply responds that if the war is unjust it is matter for the conscience of the King who leads them into battle and not the responsibility of the soldier. This idea makes me uncomfortable,  and of course was not supported during the Nuremburg trials, and probably with good reason.  And though it makes me uncomfortable I still find some merit to it. It must still be a difficult choice though, to know you will be jailed, possibly killed for not supporting your country’s cause.  In a democracy perhaps we are all responsible for fighting an unjust war.  So perhaps the soldier is a hero, since in a way many are responsible for giving that soldier the motive even if it is not a just motive.

Of course heroes are someone that we connect with.  Some people connect with military heroes, I perhaps do not connect as much with them as those who take part in humanitarian efforts.  It bothers me that these people are not celebrated in the same way we are asked to celebrate those in the military.  Support of our troops does make a difference to their morale, so shouldn’t we also support the tireless efforts of those who bring humanitarian relief to people who are struggling?  There is a lot of it in this world and these people also work long hours, in less than ideal conditions to provide aid and relief to others.  Do their tales not deserve the spotlight are they not the source of inspiration?

And how often do we praise the everyday heroes?  What about people who volunteer in soup kitchens, good cops, firefighters, or teachers, doctors and nurses who go the extra mile?  What about a single mom who works hard every day to support her children and give them a chance for something more in life?  Should we define heroism only by the level of danger that one faces?  It seems like this is the most commonly used criteria.  The one thing that seems clear is that true heroes do what they do because they are driven to do so, and not to be elevated by society at all.

Many heroes have their flaws too.  I am sure there are bad days when they want to give it all up.  They may be extremely good at what they do for people, but as a result neglect other parts of life and thus not live up to our elevated expectations of morality.  Nobody is perfect, not even heroes.  Perhaps the best we can do is try to be heroes ourselves while at the same time never forget to celebrate all those who demonstrate the best in human virtues.  They are all equally as important.  A person who is willing to die for our freedom should be at least as important as one who is willing to live for our freedom.

Game, Set, and Match

“Nothing in the world is harder than convincing someone of an unfamiliar truth”  – said by Kvothe in A Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

Every person on the planet can agree on one thing.  The world could be a better place.  For those of us who strive towards equality, wish to reduce human suffering, and care about the planet as a whole the world looks fairly messed up.  Some people  ignore the problems.  That’s a bit selfish perhaps, but the weight can be a lot to bear and we all have our limits, so who am I to judge?  Some people are definitely selfish because instead of trying to fight it they simply become part of the problem.  Trying to get a share of what they think is theirs.  If the world is going to be unfair then why not do whatever it takes to be a winner and not a loser?  In recognizing that we are a cooperative species, to me the fight to making the world more fair is always worth it even if the goal is never achieved and feels like a continual uphill battle that sometimes gets steeper and not gentler.  As a whole, we are simply better when we are working together to solve problems.  Problems do arise, even ones not of our own making.  Even ones that do arise because of our own making we can’t always blame ourselves, because hey nobody’s perfect and hindsight is 20/20 (at least we hope).

In this age of information and social media the amount of people that can be in contact with each other has expanded exponentially.  As a result we see the vast array of opinions out there.  Some people are clearly uneducated about the subject but seem very excited that they can say something and somebody will see it.  Some people make comments simply to anger people and cause an outrage or what is known as being a troll and this has been a topic of much discussion lately.  How we deal with people who make inflammatory comments or are very hostile towards the author of an article or another person commenting on a thread.  Interestingly inflammatory comments that support the view of a particular piece is not seen as negative, only the person who disagrees.  I would argue that if you read an article that say expresses a Democratic point of view and in the comments you say something like “Just another example that Republicans are pieces of shit” then you are just as bad as anybody you consider a troll in the ensuing comments.

Spurned by a few incidents in the recent past and also by this excellently written article about making better arguments in politics I wanted to express my thoughts about how we might be able to engage people we disagree with in a more meaningful way.  The quote that starts this article is something that just struck me as the wisest words ever written when I read them and speaks to why if you like to debate and engage people with different points of view, why you are rarely successful.

Picture from Amazon.com

The article that I linked in the previous paragraph talks about biases we have.  For a very comprehensive look at our biases and beliefs I also strongly recommend reading the The Believing Brain by Michael Shermer.  It’s a brilliantly constructed book and very educational.  His argument is that we believe first and rationalize later.  I think your immediate intuition sees the truth in that.  Right now you might think well that’s what the other guy does, but if you are really honest with yourself you’d realize you do it too.  It takes a lot of discipline to let your reasoning side take over, and suppress that “gut feeling” to believe what you think is right.  As a result of this tendency to believe first and then rationalize those beliefs, when absorbing a new piece of information we tend to see it in a light that supports our beliefs rather than negate them.

Another bias we have that is the main part of the article is the self-serving bias.  The idea that in order to protect our self-esteem or sense of self-worth we must reject ideas that make us feel like we are wrong about something.  As the article says is we are wrong about one thing, then what else might we be wrong about, and then how do we deal with the idea of not being as smart as we think we are?  This is why I think one of the most important human virtues we can have is humility as I wrote about in a previous blog post.  Being wrong about something is a tough thing to deal with.  What is strange to me is that I think we can all agree that we’ve experienced being wrong before.  If you reflect on your life you’ll realize you actually got through it and you are actually okay.  Nevertheless we still tend to not deal to well with it in the moment.  Just like dealing with addiction, admitting you have a problem is the first step. 🙂  In this case, don’t worry because everybody has these biases and so everybody has this problem.  So I would like to provide what I think is a helpful guide to getting people to see things from your point of view.  And if right now you are asking, “Why should I listen to this guy?”  Well because quit frankly I’m right dammit! 😉

Be the person you would like others to be

Painting by Miles Halpern

Don’t you hate it when someone is not sympathetic to you and the oppression or struggles you face?  It makes you angry, it makes you not really like that person, and it makes you frustrated.  So what should your response be?  Most people seem to respond by being equally dismissive to others and their problems.  What if, however, you tried to remain that sympathetic and compassionate person you hoped the other person would be?  What if you said “I’m sorry you can’t understand how the incident made me feel, and even though I don’t know why you can’t be sympathetic to my struggles I sincerely hope that you never have to feel the way that I do right now.”  If someone cannot demonstrate compassion for your genuine reason for being angry about something or being hurt about something, being afraid of something, or whatever is causing a negative emotion that is all the more reason to give sympathy towards them in return.  Give them an example of what sympathy and empathy is all about.  Maybe nobody has ever showed them any and so they literally don’t know it’s value or what it’s about.  Maybe they had an ultra-chauvinistic father who never allowed them to show their feelings and were always told “Buck up and be a man you pussy!”  Imagine growing up with that all your life.  How much compassion would you have as an adult?  Gandhi said “Be the change you’d like to see in the world” and so if you feel your worldview is superior in making this world a better place, make sure that you are genuinely being the type of person you would like to see in others.

Also haven’t you ever had someone in your life who you really respected because they seemed like a good person.  You admired them.  You wanted to be like them.  You are more likely to cause a change in someone’s behavior by being a positive role model rather than someone who berates them for their ideas.  Why would anyone want to be like someone who just belittles people for their beliefs even when those beliefs are misguided.  Because to the person with those beliefs…well they believe it and thus think they are not misguided.

Make sure you have a good sense of self-worth

What’s this you say?  I thought this was the problem.  The article I linked actually talks about using daily affirmations to enhance your self-worth as being important in being able to face things that you might be wrong about so that there is no net loss in self-worth.  I think the author glosses over this to almost make it seem like a trick you are using rather than genuinely building your self-worth.  If you have low self-esteem it can be hard to debate or argue with someone in a constructive manner.  Obviously if you barely value yourself, the few things that you do value about yourself, you will be even more afraid of losing.  Building a true sense of self-worth takes time and experience.  It takes an admission of your faults and the continual persistence to improve.  It takes trying not make the same mistake twice, even if it sometimes happen.  Practice humility, forgiveness, and spend time just observing and reflecting on those experiences before forming an opinion.  Then learn about how other people experience the world and try to pick out the commonalities in your experience rather than focusing on the differences.  Your self-worth will grow actually when you recognize that the world doesn’t revolve around you.  Self-worth and self-centered are completely different but often get tangled.

Make sure you respect the self-worth of others

From hellobeautiful.com

I’m not asking you to admit you’re wrong or say somebody else is right, but when you are humble and are willing to at least to consider the possibility that you might be at least partially wrong about your point of view, you will find that you move to a place of being inquisitive about where someone else’s point of view comes from.  This will lead you to ask more questions to see where that person is coming from.  It will help you get to know the person and that person now knows that you are interested in who they are, and are simply not just interested in making them feel like they are wrong.  After all who wants to listen and take seriously someone who is only interested in pointing out how right they are, and how wrong you are?  It doesn’t matter if you are actually right and that the other person is actually wrong.  People have a lot of wrong ideas not because they choose to be wrong but because they have been conditioned in their environment to see the world differently.

Recently there has been a lot of arguments in social media about racism and reverse racism.  What if someone is trying to advance the position that reverse-racism of blacks against whites is just as big of a problem as racism against black people?  You can respond angrily, dismissively, you can throw out all sorts of data and you’ll probably notice this makes no difference whatsoever.  What if instead you said “Hmmm…you know that hasn’t been my experience.  Can you tell me what makes you think that way?  Have you experienced racism as a white person?  If you have I am really sorry about that because I have personally experienced racism as well.  Maybe we could share our experiences.  Because I know how much it hurts when someone assumes something about you based on the color of your skin.”  In reality of that interaction with someone it doesn’t matter that as a whole blacks are not treated as equals and that white people do enjoy a position of privilege in society, because that person has simply been shaped by their experiences and their interpretation of those experience.  Sometimes being able to see the big picture is also a position of privilege.  It probably means you have had greater opportunities for education and slightly better income so that you have leisure time to explore a topic in more detail.  Perhaps parents who were interested in different points of view, valued diversity, etc.  Not everyone is lucky enough to have that.  Showing respect for a person and their experiences that led them to what they think is true today, is a better way to be heard by that person.  You might just tear down a few walls and find that you might not be that different at all.

Be willing to walk away

This seems pretty obvious.  A common piece of advice told by parents who want their child to not get into a physical fight.  It is true for fighting with words as well.  If you are hitting a wall with someone and trying harder each time, you will probably find that the wall is only getting thicker and harder.  You probably don’t even notice the tone of your dialogue change, but in my observation not just in other arguments I have watched, but when I’ve had a chance to look back at my own words I realized that the angrier I get, my logic gets worse and my tone becomes more inflammatory.  Being a more experienced teacher I now have more experience in just watching people who have trouble learning.  Being a good teacher is to find alternative ways in which someone can learn what you are saying and all those ways require patience and understanding.  So I think I am better at it that I was, but one can always improve.

More importantly of course getting angry, frustrated, and stressed because someone simply doesn’t “get it” is no way to live life.  It could be your inability to argue effectively, it could be your tone, and of course it could be completely and absolutely all their fault.  So what?  Maybe it is possible that they will simply never, ever agree with you so why waste your time and energy?  If you really feel convinced that you could make your argument better, then don’t keep arguing maniacally, but step away and reflect.  Pay less attention to the content of what you have said, but how you have said it.  Look less at the content of what they have said but try to pay attention to the experiences that may have led them to that line of thinking and try starting again.  The point is, if you feel yourself starting to get angry or frustrated, you should probably just stop.  Because I guarantee that you will not only not win, but you will have to deal with an emotion that can quite honestly ruin your day.

True change takes time

Photo by Alan Cleaver via flickr

Plenty of times in my life I have thought I have made no impact and sometimes weeks, months, or years later I see someone who has changed their position on something that they seemed so sure of in the past.  Most teachers will have stories of students who they couldn’t  motivate, were often at odds with, and felt sadness that they weren’t able to “reach” that student.  Only to get an e-mail a year later with an apology, or a revelation from that student, saying that they realize now how their behavior was wrong and that they appreciate you for trying to motivate them and believing in them.  Many times in the moment I have felt frustrated at being told I’m wrong about something.  I might even argue my case further even if I am out of additional legs to stand on.  Then I sit and think.  I read some more.  Realize that maybe something I read, or something somebody told me was wrong.  Or perhaps I realized that I hadn’t looked at a previous experience in the right way, and that I hadn’t perhaps learned all the lessons from it I should have.  Nowadays I try to let that person know that they were right about something and I was wrong.  In the past when my own self-esteem wasn’t strong I was often too embarrassed to admit it to that person.  That doesn’t mean that person didn’t have an effect on me.  So it may seem like wishful thinking, but don’t ever think your exchange didn’t have any value at all.  Because you never know.  It may happen years down the road, or the change may be ever so slight but because it caused someone to look in a different direction, it sets them down a path of learning they never would have gone down before without you.

——–

As a final thought I want to make it clear that I don’t pretend any of this is easy, or that I am the awesome person that I describe here.  I HATE being wrong and in my experience most other people do too.   Perhaps its because I have gotten older that the accumulation of things I have been wrong about has added up to such a proportion that it has humbled me.  I don’t know.  What we consider right and wrong however is a product of many things.  A function of space and time. Perhaps instead of thinking of yourself as being wrong about something, think of it as “Maybe I don’t know everything there is to know about something.  So maybe I’m not wrong, just not as right as I could be.” 🙂  Play nice and remember it’s a big sandbox.  There is room for a lot more people in it than you think. 🙂