Conversation vs. Retaliation: Passion, Advocacy, and ‘Fairness’ by Joel Worford

We live in an age where it’s difficult to lobby for restraint, and in many respects, this is a good thing.

Last weekend’s March For Our Lives serves as an excellent example of the beautiful showing of humanity that can come as a result of some groups’ (in this case, young students’), uninhibited exhibition of passion in working towards a goal. It was the students’ and marchers’ uncompromising position towards what they believed in that made last weekend’s event so powerful.

The March For Our Lives campaign shows one of the many positives that strong, peaceful resistance to compromise can result in.

In other words, passion is not the enemy. One can be passionate and have a respectful conversation with someone who holds an opposing view. Passion is necessary for change—without passion, nobody would show up to get things done.

Passion is the difference between one and one million.

There is no change without the presence of strong-willed, bold individuals who refuse to compromise, and so—join together in lobbying for their beliefs. Passion, advocacy, and outspokenness are qualities we should celebrate in this time where listening to and learning about the opinions of others is essential in building a better society. Passion is not to be stifled.

What we need to come to distinguish, however, is passion, advocacy and frankness from meanness, superiority, and revenge.

Regardless of how it may seem, there is no universal moral high ground. Believing that one’s opinion is the “right belief” is no justification for telling someone that their view is completely invalid and that they are stupid for believing it. The reality is that oftentimes when we seek change, we don’t know for certain that the result will be better; we just hope it will be. While this may be a bleak view, it is useful in discussing the dialogue on today’s controversial events, which often seem polarizing, antagonistic, and useless.

Social media is a blessing and a curse when it comes to progressive movements. On the one hand, social media provides a voice to those individuals who, otherwise, might go unheard. However, social media also becomes somewhat of an opinion cesspool—a place where everyone and anyone can express themselves anyway they want, and have an audience.

Expression is great, but the way one goes about expressing oneself can sometimes do more harm than good. Starting conversations is the best way to make progress on controversial issues, but it’s difficult to reach a level of understanding with someone when the discourse started with disrespect or condescension.

People often justify inflammatory and instigating social media posts with oppressed group’s past hardships. Lines that go something like, “How could you ask [oppressed group or individual speaking on their behalf] to be calm after all they’ve been through? How is that fair?”

Calmness isn’t so much what we’re asking for, but let’s be honest—when has anything been fair for these groups, and why do we choose to believe that there’s a necessity for fairness now that there’s actually a chance to change things? There is a time for anger, and there is a time for expressing those negative feelings, but taking them out on others is conducive to nothing but more hatred.

This might sound idealistic, and it might be disappointing, but the reality is that showing compassion and patience towards someone different than you is the best way to get them to listen.

Now is not the time for anger and retaliation. With society listening to oppressed groups and asking “How can we change for the better?” now is not the time to spit in the face of those engaging in conversation for the sake of avenging past mistreatment.

Is the anger justified? Perhaps, but regardless, accepting the aggressive, rude, and harmful acts of those who’ve been oppressed because they’ve been oppressed sets a nasty precedent. Granting this kind of invincibility ends up placing individuals in a sort of competition to see who’s been the most oppressed—a sort of battle for superiority and power based on past hardships. We need to treat aggression based on past mistreatment with understanding, but not acceptance.

The idea that oppressed groups need to restrain their anger to move society further away from the hatred that causes their anger is unfair. However, as earlier stated, the situation has never been fair for these groups, and when it comes to making sacrifices, the right to retaliate must be one of them.

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Joel Worford is a singer-songwriter from Richmond, Virginia, and a member of the Central Virginia Chapter of Writing for Peace. He currently studies English at Longwood University with a concentration in Creative Writing. Joel’s short story “The Naked Eye” appears in the 2017 edition of Good Works Review.

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Getting Ready for the Death Talk: First in a Series from Stuart Nicholson

I visited my alma mater recently and found the most wonderful little poster advertising a Death Café. While I had never heard of such a thing before, I know well the general concept.

The Death Cafe is a worldwide movement dedicated to bringing discussion of death into a relaxed environment. The Death Cafe is a group-directed discussion of death with no agenda, objectives, or themes. It is a discussion group rather than a grief support or counseling session. The event seeks to provide a forum for death understanding and death positivity in a less daunting, less facing-your-own-mortality way.

It’s a forum where attendees can ask questions that they may have not only regarding their own death, but the deaths of their parents and perhaps spouses.

It’s no secret that I am fascinated with death. Much of my own writing deals with the subject and how it affects people. In my perpetual search for new information and sources to color and add to my understanding of Death, I happened upon a licensed mortician and funeral director, named Caitlin Doughty, whose mission is to educate everyone about death and funeral practices, but also to answer any questions people have about the process of death and burial.

Caitlin has enlightened me on many areas of the American death culture that I, as I am sure everyone else has, just accepted as part of what happens.

As a delivery driver, I spend a lot of time in my car; and I’ve heard several ads recently encouraging people to sign up for life insurance policies. It occurred to me that the discussion for insurance is a great way to incite the mortality conversation, but there needs to be more going into it than just making sure there is enough money to cover expenses. I am not discrediting the need or importance of life insurance. I just want to present more opportunities for understanding.

The sudden death of a loved one is devastating to the heart and finances. But even with savings and insurance, a family may still be unable to pay the $30,000 funeral costs of a traditional burial. Cremation is a bit cheaper, but not by much; only like $5-10,000.

It is essential that we begin to think about these different topics and decisions regarding death as they may be the solution to the problems that come up around them.

I’m hoping to make a future posting regarding opening the Death Discussion and give further details about modern death practices, such as green burials and death laws that funeral homes may not mention. Perhaps our very own Death Café may pop up here in Richmond…

Read More About Death Cafe Here

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Stuart Nicholson, an actor and fiction writer in Richmond, as well as a member of the Central Virginia Chapter of Writing For Peace.

 

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Good Read! "Why we need to move empathy from personal emotion to collective moral concern" by Roman Krznaric (from Aeon)

from Aeon

"Empathy comes in two distinct forms: affective empathy is our instinct for mirroring the emotions of others, while cognitive empathy is our conscious ability to understand someone else’s perspective.

In this installment of Aeon In Sight, the British writer Roman Krznaric argues that empathy is a uniquely powerful – if often overlooked – tool for transforming and improving societies on a mass scale. Using it effectively, however, requires much more than affective empathy’s rush of emotions and reflexive reactions, to which the culture today seems particularly inclined.

Rather, to get the most out of empathy, we must focus on widening our moral concern through cognitive empathy, finding ways to move from the personal to the collective....."

Read The Rest Here

Creating Peace in Your Classroom- Three Things You Can Do Tonight by Amanda Baker

“Establishing peace is the work of education.”-Maria Montessori

We teachers love teacher movies. You know the ones I’m talking about- bad kids, low-performing schools, difficult administration, absent parents, and the rising star teacher who inspires the kids to “come together to learn and be their best selves.” And it works out every. single. time. “How do I DO THAT???” we ask from our post on the couch, covered in ungraded papers and potato chip dust. They make it look so good and so easy!

We want to create that sense of belonging in our own classrooms. We want to give our students that sense of peace that passes all understanding when they step through our doors. We want to be inspirational too! And so, we pack up our papers, adjust our ties and our attitudes, and head out in the morning ready to HAVE A GOOD DAY IN OUR CLASSROOMS AND CREATE OUR OWN PEACEFUL LITTLE COMMUNITY, DAMMIT.

And the same student that you normally have trouble with doesn’t respond to your smile and chirpy greeting of “Good morning! Welcome! It’s a great day to learn!” And the same skippers skip. And the same kid who is sullen is still sullen. That kid still got into a fight in the hallway. This kid still cussed out a fellow classmate. Your greeting didn’t matter. Your new lesson plan with an article about achieving inner peace, written by the Dalai Lama no less, and your carefully-crafted guided reading worksheet and thoughtful journal response flopped. Most of the kids refused to write the journal, and the worksheets had one or two-word answers that didn’t really make sense. You think, “If only this kid wasn’t in my room,” or “Uuuggghhhh… if those two kids were just different,” or instead of the awful “he’s/she’s a bad kid,’ we say the equally damning but more polite, “Well, she’s/he’s a ring leader, you know.” Insert extreme teacher eyeball roll here, add resigned slow head shake for full effect.

THOSE kids just RUINED it.

Relax. Take a deep breath.

One worksheet is not going to “fix” a decade or more of a chaotic home life, undiagnosed learning difficulties, substance abuse, physical abuse, neglect, or even a rumbly tummy from no breakfast and lunch.

Banishing one kid to in-school suspension every chance you get isn’t going to help your classroom climate more than temporarily. Blaming the classroom disruptions on one kid as the “ring leader” and wishing for their family to suddenly move away isn’t going to make your classroom Hollywood perfect either.

There are some things you CAN do, however.

Things that aren’t blinking neon arrows that say “HERE IS THE WAY TO PEACE AND HARMONY!” They are subtle and quiet, they don’t require you to chang e your seating chart (which we all know is a nightmare), or for you to send out “that kid” again.

1. Do some self-care.

Normally we teachers see this at the bottom of lists like these, as an afterthought. But you know that whole “If momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” cliché? It works for classrooms too. If you, dear teacher, are tired, stressed, overwhelmed, and burnt out, your classroom is going to feel that stress, and your stress negatively impacts everything you are trying to do. The University of Groningen in the Netherlands did a research study on the effects of teacher stress on students. They found that teachers “…who showed higher levels of stress at the beginning of the year displayed fewer effective teaching strategies over the rest of the school year, including clear instruction, effective classroom management, and creation of a safe and stimulating classroom climate for their students, than did the teachers with lower initial stress levels” (Sparks).

So, whatever you do to get unstressed, do that. Use the “check plus, check, check minus” grading system for some minor worksheets if it helps you clear that stack off the desk. Ride your bike after class. Force yourself to stop grading by a certain time so you can have time for a bath and a book. And do not feel guilty about it at. all. If you’re less stressed, then you’ll be more at peace, which means that feeling will carry over into your classroom too.

2. Watch your mouth.

Sometimes, we are own worst enemy. I teach high school, and every year I hear stories about “the mean thing that Ms. So-and-so called me when I was in 3rd grade…” or a class reminisces about how they drove Mr. So-and-so to yelling in 5th grade and how red his face gets. Those throw-away words stay with a kid FOREVER. They internalize the “Oh my god, why are you so stupid??” comments. They never forget the “You just need to shut up” snap. The frustrated “What is wrong with you? It’s a simple word!” sinks into the deepest parts of them, and it trickles up to effect that student’s response to every teacher they have after that. It’s hard for us to look at ourselves in the mirror and think, “Ohhhh… I’m the problem here,” but many times, we are. In the article “When The Teacher Is The Bully," one teacher admits that he bullied his students, particularly special education students. He was eventually forced to resign because of parent complaints. It took him three years to come to terms with the damage he had done, and when he returned to the classroom, he said he hasn’t raised his voice even once. Your mouth can wreck a kid for life.

3. Create a space for peace to live in your room.

“Flexible seating” is all the educational rage right now, and I am lucky enough for the first time in fourteen years to have a classroom big enough for a loveseat, a rug, and a pretty floor lamp… and thirty desks. You might not. But a rug under your desk, a glider rocker in the corner, and a nice desk lamp might be do-able. Pinterest is full of ideas for small classrooms spaces. The point is to create a physical place that the kids see, can access if they need it, and offers peace and quiet when needed. That bit of peace in your room might be the only peace they experience all day. And for a kid to know day after day, week after week that that space is there for them to use when they need it gives them something special to look forward to in your room. Montessori schools are experts at creating peaceful, safe spaces for their students. Their entire model is based on the “prepared environment” that makes for peaceful, productive learning. Make time to go check out one someday and see how it’s done.

Dear Teacher, you are the author of your own peace and the peace of your classroom. I’d like to say that my classrooms are always peaceful, but they aren’t. I teach teens, notorious for outrageous language and fights and rebellions, but every grade level is challenging for different reasons. I will say that I have very few arguments even though we discuss tough and controversial social issues. In fourteen years, I’ve had only two scuffles in my room. I do yell sometimes, but it’s mostly “STOP TALKING!!!” five thousand times. Last semester a kid gratefully threw their bookbag on the floor and sank in relief onto the couch and said, “I am so happy this couch is here. I really needed it today.” You and I can’t control what is going on at home. We have very little say in what they do from 3:30pm to 8am, sixteen hours of NOT us. In many schools, teachers aren’t allowed to touch their students at all, never mind give them the hugs they so desperately need.

We have a small window of opportunity to model for them what life CAN be like, what they can create for themselves and their futures, the endless possibilities of peace for all of us. Don’t waste it.

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References

Kelmon, Jessica. “When The Teacher Is The Bully.” Great Schools, October 2017. https://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/when-the-teacher-is-the-bully/

Miller, Alice Lawson. “Cultivating Peace In The Classroom.” Montessori Services, 2011. https://www.montessoriservices.com/ideas-insights/cultivating-peace-in-the-classroom

Sparks, Sarah. “How Teacher Stress Affects Students: A Research Roundup,” Education Week Teacher, June 2017. https://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2017/06/07/how-teachers-stress-affects-students-a-research.html

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Amanda Baker is a member of the Central Virginia Chapter of Writing for Peace. Mother, teacher, daughter, friend, writer, Amanda has been teaching high school English for fourteen years and in two states. Currently living in Southside Virginia, this Yankee transplant has been a waitress, a technical writer, a truck driver, a business owner, a corporate secretary, and an educator. In addition, she volunteers for the Halifax Dog Squad helping to rescue and transport dogs, and in the summers, she helps to sew costumes for The Prizery's Summer Theater Celebration. 

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Volunteers & Donations Needed! Madeline's House Domestic Violence Shelter, Central Virginia

Madeline’s House is a non-profit organization, providing comprehensive services for individuals and families experiencing domestic and sexual abuse.

We receive and are dependent upon support from local sources: civic groups, religious groups, businesses, private citizens and grants. Income is also generated through various community fundraising events.

Southside Center for Violence Prevention, Inc. was established in 1999 in response to the cries of persons who experience domestic and sexual violence, and their primary need for immediate help and safety by:

  • Providing temporary housing

  • Empowering clients and residents to become survivors

  • Assisting them in regaining control of their lives through a wide range of appropriate services, and

  • Supporting these individuals in ending their experience of violence and homelessness through client advocacy, counseling, and community support systems.

Public awareness is the key to changing long term attitudes about domestic violence (DV) and sexual assault (SA). Finding a safe haven from this abuse is an immediate and life saving concern. Madeline’s House has been established in response to the cry of DV and SA victim’s immediate need for help and safety.

It is our intent to inspire these women and children to become survivors and assist them in regaining control of their lives. In addition to the wide range of services we provide, our goal is to help them restore their self-esteem. Counseling, therapy, and a supportive family environment within the shelter help to rebuild the independence necessary for reentering the community to live a safe and productive new life.

If You Need Help, Call : 1-888-819-2926

 

Learn More About Madeline's House Here

 

How You Can Help

Volunteer Or Donate

 

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Important Read! "Am I Invisible? The Pain-Relieving Response to Being Rejected or Excluded" by Rachel Macy Stafford

Thanks to Sara Bausch for this share. 

“Regardless of how anyone treats you, you stand to benefit. While some people teach you who you do want to be, others teach you who you don’t want to be. And it’s the people who teach you who you don’t want to be that provide some of the most lasting and memorable lessons on social graces, human dignity, and the importance of acting with integrity.”

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"Remember the deepest desire of the human heart is to belong … to be welcomed … to know you are seen and worthy of kindness."

Read Rachel's Post Here at Hands Free Mama

 

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