Gratitude, Forgiveness, and Listening

Yesterday was Canadian Thanksgiving, which my family has not celebrated since we moved to the US and the US version of Thanksgiving became my mum’s favorite holiday. It has been years since I started keeping track (sorry about the photos!) of who or what I’m grateful for on a daily basis, and this is as good a time as any to make some of those thoughts public.

I am grateful for the family and friends who have held me up over the past year during which I’ve made some really hard choices and have restarted everything – twice. I am grateful to those who stand beside me as I continue to make choices about what to do next.

I am grateful for the technology that allows me to keep in touch with people all over the world from anywhere in the world.

I am grateful for the people I’ve called at all hours when I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think, and couldn’t see tomorrow. I am grateful for those who have reached out just to see how things are going.

I am grateful for everyone who has helped in the three big moves that I’ve made over the last twelve months. Sorry that my book boxes were so heavy!

I am grateful for all the people who make me laugh, certainly including my students. I am grateful for the compassion of those who have seen me cry (including a group of grade ten students in Cambodia).

I am grateful for everyone who has helped me learn and grow, and who believe in me when I don’t believe in myself.

I am grateful for my travel experiences and all the travel partners I’ve had along the way.

I am grateful for the roof over my head, clothes in my closet, food in the fridge, and for getting paid to do my favorite thing – teach.

For all this and more, I am grateful and I thank you.

These reflections leave me acutely aware that today is Erev Yom Kippur, the night before the Day of Atonement on the Jewish calendar. (I’m a huge fan of this website for all things Judaism, so have a look if you want to investigate Yom Kippur further.) Since I’m teaching at a Jewish day school this year, I have time off for all the Jewish holidays, which is the first time that has happened since my own day school days. Overseas, I struggled to get the time to be part of a religious community, which is really important to me. With the tumultuousness I’ve been experiencing lately, I’m glad to have one fewer thing keeping me up at night.

Yom Kippur is considered the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. It is a day of self-reflection, connection with others, and an exploration of individual spiritual relationships. Judaism teaches that the only way to be forgiven for wronging other people is to seek their forgiveness. The goal is to begin a new year with a clean slate based on the new connection formed between both parties.

Forgiveness changes who we are because we are required to relate to each other in uncomfortable ways. Not only am I admitting what I have done wrong, but I am asking your forgiveness because I care about you, about myself, and about our relationship. It’s easy to brush off a negative conversation, walk away, and never mention it again. Acknowledging that someone has been left hurt, when that happens, means looking outside yourself to the impact your actions have on others.

It is very important, however, to keep in mind that many things that we do cause harm, pain, or discomfort. There’s a huge difference between actions and words that are malicious and those that hurt because of misunderstanding or miscommunication. While I am by no means advocating avoiding challenging and uncomfortable conversations, I do believe that my responsibility over the course of these conversations is to talk with you rather than at you, listen to and hear what you are saying, and respond to your ideas without attacking you personally.

When I don’t do that, I will ask your forgiveness. I will not apologize for my ideas or perspectives, but I will apologize for the way I treated you during our conversation. I have learned that the most difficult conversations need to be had sooner rather than later, with open minds and care towards others.

I believe this is important, especially in such a corrosive political climate. There’s a lot to be said about Hillary Clinton’s experience and policy proposals over Trump’s shockingly violent, hateful rhetoric. But there are also ways to have these conversations so as to actually hear one another.

On our way home from school last week, my carpool friends and I discussed our own failures to listen to and hear the other side. In our case, we’re too quick to dismiss Trump supporters as “crazy” or “ignorant”. What we need to do instead is provide evidence for why we believe what we believe and ask for their evidence in return. When political conversations move towards facts and evidence and away from personal feelings, we all learn a lot more. And we’ll cause a lot less anger, hate, and violence towards each other as a result.

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