Err on the Side of Compassion

 

TRANSCRIPT:

Teachers were reacting
To an article about a former student
Who had been raped
Before she came to us
Who had not told anybody
Until after she left us

Nobody knew

How can we make sure that we know these things?
The teachers were asking

And they began to brainstorm

Student information system
Digital documentation
Communication applications

And I interrupted.

And what will you document?
You won’t know. Most of the time, you won’t know.

Then we need to ask, the teachers were saying. We need to inquire and open up that communication, and…

How?
Do you introduce yourself and ask, “Have you been raped?” Or go down the list of many, many, other possible traumas?

You won’t know. Most of the time, you won’t know.

Because you cannot know.

And did you know… it isn’t your right to know.

It isn’t your place to demand this information. You are not entitled to this.

Yes. Mandatory reporting, is a must
But until you have that trust
You might miss the signs, and the actual danger might be in the past.

Because those signs look different ways for different kids.
Often misinterpreted, or totally misread.

Trauma a year ago feels like trauma yesterday, so the past is now even though there’s nothing to report.

Yes, I know you want to help, and that this information would make it so much easier to do so. I understand this. But you won’t know. Most of the time, you won’t know.

So what can we do?

Err on the side of compassion.

If a student is struggling, assume that there is a good reason for it. Even if you are given what seems to be a weak reason, know that this may not be the only reason, or even the real reason… and err on the side of compassion.

No, this doesn’t mean become a doormat. This doesn’t mean putting up with you or others suffering abuse. I don’t speak of enabling bullying.

I speak of not being the bully.

I speak of creating a safe space. So maybe the student can share with you. If they… so choose.

I speak of empowering student voice. So they can have a say in their education, in their life, and move forward the best way they can. With or without telling you everything.

I speak of holding space. Say, I am here for you, if you need me. No judgment.

No judgment.

Err on the side of compassion.

The student who was a rape victim gained her voice over time. With a stronger voice, she was able to break her silence. And now she is serving as the voice of others.

SHE did this, this healing…. During the time she was with us. She blossomed. Without us ever knowing. We erred on the side of compassion.

So that’s what we continue to do.

For so many other students who come to us this way, this is what we do.

And there’s no app for that. This comes from heart.

 

 

 

Could Have Been My Child

rainbow flower“But what am I?” Her eyes were glassy from unshed tears.

“You’re you. And you’re wonderful,” I tried to reassure her, but she saw the worry on my face.

My beautiful daughter: smart, compassionate, kind to all things living and not. Seriously, the kid bonded to pet rocks! And she never did fit in a box.

“There just isn’t a label for you yet,” I said as the letters of the current acronym went through my mind. None of those letters fit.

But she wanted a label. As much as she didn’t fit into boxes, she always wanted them. She would even ask me to create them for her. “Just tell me what to do,” she would say, even as a teenager.  I, however, was the worst parent for that request.

“I’ll help you find your way,” I would usually say. But this time I felt lost on how to do that. She was hurting, and I didn’t know how to help.

“I love you. We all love you.”

The words felt weak. Insufficient. How well would that love armor her against a world full of hate?

That was seven years ago, and my daughter travels the country, living life, lighting up the world the best she can. There’s still no perfect checkbox for her, but she has found a sense of belonging in other ways, and she makes the world a better place.

As I listened to Anderson Cooper recently read each name of those who died in Orlando, my fingernails cut into my clenched hands as I tried to stay as resolved as he was. With each name, I  thought, that could have been my child. I will hear these names. Then I saw the text message of one child to his mother. I had no words. Only emotions in a sea of synesthesia.

My heart turned to CMASAS students. So many of our students are targeted – for their culture, or religion, or neurotype, or sexuality, or other reasons.  Each one is precious.  We open our arms to them and their families, and do what is within our power to help them find their way. And love them.  Always love them.

But I find myself wondering what more we could do.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”  ~ Fred Rogers

No Such Thing as Incorrect Emotion

EmotionsThere’s no such thing as an incorrect emotion.

Sure, it might be based on incorrect information, or you might make a bad decision based on emotions, but the emotion itself is not in question. If you feel it, it is real.

I recently said this to a CMASAS student I had the pleasure to visit. I more recently said this to a friend who reached out to me in anguish over a personal situation as she questioned the legitimacy of her feelings. The reason it is really on my mind, however, is some work that I have been doing since November.

Because I prefer to be proactive and focus on designing my life for the positive, I don’t like to dwell on the past. However, the past has a way of popping up at the most inconvenient times. Sparing you the details, I am lucky to have survived my childhood, and there were some things I needed to revisit.

When I started the process, I was doing it from my present, 40-something self, with my current knowledge and perspectives. The problem with this is that what I actually experienced was through the eyes of a child. The understanding (or lack of), the feelings, and the things actually perceived, are what impacted that child. My present self talking over my past self wasn’t doing me a darn bit of good. So I finally wrote out memories, one by one, in the raw. No judgment. No editing. Somewhat messy. With each one, a greater sense of peace replaced the previously-felt emotions. I am still amazed by the process.

In this way, I held space for myself in much the same way I advocate doing for students when they have feelings or thoughts to share. What they are experiencing is what they are experiencing. What they feel is what they feel. Let that be heard. Analysis and working with those ideas can come afterward when the time is right. From the minor things in life to greater adversity, honoring oneself and mindfully working through emotions is a life skill often forgotten in the list of subjects we teach.

And by doing this for ourselves, I now realize, we can do a better job in helping others. It still takes practice though. So my New Year’s resolution is to learn more about how to empower one’s voice – my own and others – especially for those recovering from trauma. If you have any ideas or resources to send my way, I will receive them in gratitude.

What about you? Do you do resolutions, New Year’s or otherwise? If so, what is your focus for this next journey around the Sun?

There’s Nothing “Just” About Jealousy

aloneOh he’s just jealous. He’ll get over it. It’s a growing experience. Act jealous back and see how he likes it. Jealousy is a sin; there’s something wrong with you if you feel jealous. Get over it. 

Sound familiar?

The above statements are very common and usually applied in the context of romantic relationships. Today I saw variations of the above applied to discussing a child whose formative infant years included separation from his mother. Of course he’s jealous.

Whether it is this situation, or romantic jealousy, or other scenarios, the one thing we all need to remember is this:

Jealousy is a symptom – usually of needs being threatened or not met.

  • Insecurity – needing reassurance of one’s own value or that one’s needs will be met.
  • Need for time, attention, nurturing, and both physical and emotional safety.
  • Fear of loss, abandonment, and/or being replaced.
  • Competition jealousy – usually another symptom of any of the above. We want to be uniquely valued.

So how do you deal with jealousy?

If you are helping a child, the first step is to talk about the fears that the child has and ways to address them. That takes patience, spending one-on-one time, reassurance of love, and discussing the fears in a respectful way.

If it is a romantic partner or other relationship, it is much the same. Discuss the fears and where they are coming from. Explore ways to counter the fears. The fears could be real too; the person feeling jealous might have real reasons to fear loss, and this fear can even lead to behaviors that are self-fulfilling. If the fear cannot be eliminated, let’s at least deal with the issues in a respectful manner.

There is that word again: respectful. The worst way of dealing with jealousy is with judgment; compassion and respect are required instead.

Yes, some people have a greater tendency for jealousy. And you might decide that you cannot be in a relationship with someone who is prone to this symptom of their fears. Just understand that it is a symptom, especially if you are the one who experiences jealousy because your solution will be to build your self and your life in a way that allows for greater levels of security.

We also want to help our children avoid or counter jealousy, and this is important. Telling them that it shouldn’t happen or that it is just wrong is going to reinforce the jealousy. They are not “just jealous” – they are just exhibiting a symptom of some underlying issues that need to be dealt with. 

Those of us who learned as children that we could not trust that our parents would be there or protect us have some extra challenges. Some of us just don’t allow people to get close enough to hurt us and can proudly claim we don’t get jealous. Can’t be jealous when you don’t have a source of that fear! For those of us who do take that risk, it’s soul-deep.

Personally, I have the benefit of being aware of all of the above from a young age, so I used to not understand – and was admittedly irritated with – people who would get jealous. I had very little patience for it.  That doesn’t mean that I never had fear or hurt or even anger; it means that I always targeted the source of those emotions. Now that I understand why people experience jealousy, I can be more understanding. I can also help prevent jealousy of loved ones by being mindful of the sources, and having a clue on how to address issues when they do come up.

Because they are never just jealous. There’s no such thing.

 

 

 

Student Voice “Undermining”?

RespectHe towered over me, easily twice my size, shaking with anger. How dare I undermine him, making him look like a fool! Having a very large, angry man only inches away from me triggered me into a calm state that he probably interpreted as uncaring.

He had a habit of misinterpretations and making assumptions.

It was my first year teaching in public school full-time, at an “alternative school” for kids labeled at-risk. He was a fellow teacher who had just come out of a large group teacher-parent conference with the student and administration also present. The student was intelligent, hard-working, and mature beyond her years, and also one of my best students. The counselor expressed concern over her not doing well in my colleague’s class, and he then took a turn talking about all the things the student was doing wrong and why.

When it came to my turn to speak, I turned to the student – who was gripping her mom’s hand – and asked her what she thought or felt, and then held space for her to speak.

This is what my fellow teacher was enraged about. I “allowed” the student to speak. And she spoke calmly, intelligently, and gave important information that brought everything into clear focus, and this focus resulted in him feeling foolish for having made false assumptions.

When a kid is acting out or not performing, there’s usually a reason. There’s a backstory to learn. Sometimes it’s mundane yet still important. Sometimes it’s something horrible, and nine out of ten times that story won’t make you angry; it will break your heart.

In this case, the information changed the tone and focus of the rest of the meeting to one of respect and proactive solutions.

Student voice is essential. Sometimes they are eager to speak, and sometimes they need a coach to mentor and advocate for them to find and use their voice. While our school’s philosophy is all about empowering the student, and we have a learning model that focuses on that, I wonder what more we could do to give students opportunity to practice using their voice. Do you have any ideas?

 

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Christa McAuliffe School of Arts & Sciences

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