Category Archives: Education

Words from Students

We have parent-teacher conferences later this week and it often strikes me that the parents and I know very different young people. This could be because I know them as students while their parents know them as children, or because I only see them for 80 structured minutes every other day. It might be because I see them around their friends in a different context than their parents do, or just because school and home are very different places. I enjoy sharing what I know with parents and, at the same time, learning about these young people from people who know them well.

An interesting thread of discussion I’ve heard from several grade 11 students recently, one that I don’t expect their parents are aware of, is that they wish their parents would pay more attention to them. This came up in several contexts, but there are two that stood out:

  1. Frustration from reasonably self-sufficient students with siblings who are not
  2. Frustration from students with siblings away at university

Both groups have said things like, “They’re constantly on top of him because he won’t do any of his work if they aren’t but I’m like, ‘Hello? Anyone interested in what I’m doing?'” and “I thought that once she went to college they’d stop focusing on her as much, but they still FaceTime her all the time and I’m like, ‘I’m here, too!'”

What strikes me here is not that students want attention – I know they do. They often come to class with an entirely unrelated question or something to share or just need a moment to complain. I have a feeling they appreciate a face-to-face encounter with someone who is not also holding a phone and scrolling through emails, messages, or Facebook while nodding and replying, “mhmm” at appropriate times, a phenomenon I often observe on the MRT, in restaurants, and walking down the street.

My students are pretty open about the negative impacts they feel that social media has had on their lives, as well as the pressure they experience to be within reach and involved at all times. They feel anxiety when they can’t be connected because so much rides on constant status updates, posts, and likes.

It worries me that much of the above counts as connection at all.

The teenagers I work with are also eager to talk about the importance of authentic personal connection and relationships over what exists in cyberspace. They readily admit to feeling lonely, isolated, and anxious whether they’re surrounded by people or not. I feel that, too, at times, and I didn’t have a smart phone until I was in my early 20s. I can’t imagine how it has been growing up with no quiet or boredom or permission to just ignore everyone and everything.

In all generations, teenagers often get a bad rap for just about anything they do (an ad recognizing this has been running in movie theatres lately). Instead of brushing them off as kids crying for attention, consider why they want to be noticed. Consider the incredible pressure on them to make something of themselves, do something worthwhile, and understand the world around them.

Young people have a lot to teach and offer the rest of us and just need a chance to do that. Listen to them. They have things to say, questions to ask, stories to share. They’re great people and I’m looking forward to learning a bit more about them through the conversations I’ll have with their parents later this week.

How to Improve the World while Surfing the Internet

Do people even say “surfing the Internet” anymore?

Regardless of what we call it, we certainly do a lot of it! Lucky for us, the folks over at Tab for a Cause have developed a browser extension that donates to a charity of your choice every time you open a new tab. As part of our school’s Valentine’s Day campaign to do something nice for someone else, I started encouraging my students to being using Tab for a Cause. It’s an easy way to do good while simply doing all of the things you already do.

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Interested? Click here to get started. After creating a username, you can sign in on any device and the number of hearts that you earn (one tab = one heart) will sync across devices. I’ve been using Tab for a Cause for a while now and my stats page looks like this:

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Thanks for helping us make the world a better, more peaceful place.

Compassion is Still a Practice

I’m not a big believer in New Year’s resolutions. If I want to change something in my life, I change it regardless of the time of year. That’s why I’m writing this post.

Over the weekend I sifted through some old writing and reread my post on compassion  from May 2015. While I previously committed to practicing compassion to myself and those around me, I’d forgotten the journey I took to get there. I’d forgotten the finer points of the thought process that helped me understand what it means to be a kinder, more compassionate individual. Rereading that blog post reminded me and I’m glad it did.

Reflecting, I think I’m more judgemental than I want to be. While there are definitely  circumstances when passing judgement on another person is appropriate, there are likely many more when it is not. Anything that qualifies as gossip almost certainly falls into the latter category. There are few things we can unequivocally determine about others, yet we are quick to draw conclusions that may be dangerously inaccurate or at the very least, misguided. Those conclusions affect our actions towards others or our thoughts about them, often to the point of never attempting to know or understand them. The mere thought of engagement with someone we have condemned becomes abhorrent and inconceivable. This then leads to a breakdown in social relationships, an unwillingness to step outside of our tight circles, and a refusal to hear or recognize perspectives that might differ from our own. We are uncomfortable admitting that whatever we heard might be more complicated than we initially thought.

This is what happens when we are quick to appraise others, especially those we don’t know. We smile knowingly at those in our confidence and say things like, “I’m in no position to judge but. . . .” We admit to knowing that we don’t have the knowledge or understanding to say what we’re about to say.

And then we say it.

I’m guilty of this, too, which is why I’m writing this post. The next time I catch myself (or you catch me!) beginning such a sentence, I’d like to stop with, “I’m in no position to judge.” And then I’d like to take a moment to think about what I want to say. Maybe there is nothing to say, which should be the end of the conversation. I expect this to be the case rather frequently.

As I wrote nearly two years ago, I believe we need to accept Matthieu Ricard’s explanation of ignorance as “the mental confusion that deforms reality and gives rise to an array of mental obstructions such as hatred, compulsive desire, jealousy, and pride”. We need to accept that ignorance causes suffering and suffering causes harm. From there, we have to accept that people who do harmful things are suffering in some way due to ignorance, due to mental confusion. When we approach others and their actions already knowing that the actions are a mere glimmer of what might be happening internally, it far easier to approach other people mindfully, thoughtfully, and compassionately. It is far easier to extend a hand in love, kindness, and generosity to help them return to a place where the inner confusion and turmoil do not take such a hold.

This way of seeing others, truly seeing and not just looking at or looking past, paves the way for dialogue and understanding, essential aspects of building a better and more peaceful world. Though I firmly believe this, I’ve been negligent in my practice of compassion because I often find it challenging. I tend to feel emotion very intensely and can be uncomfortably reactive in my thoughts, though that’s now much rarer in my actions and behavior. I’m much better at keeping the thoughts to myself than I used to be but I’d like to grow stronger at tamping down the thoughts as they begin rather than letting them flare until they burn out.

Compassion is a practice. It is ongoing. It can hurt, it can heal, and it will wax and wane as we work at it. But it will ultimately get easier and hopefully become a deliberate habit. I have a renewed understanding of this. Practicing compassion is necessary if we are to create a better, more peaceful world. Simple as that.

If I believed in New Year’s resolutions, I might put this one aside for next year. I might brush it off as something to do someday but not quite today. But I don’t, which is why I’m writing about it tonight. Life is about getting better daily and this is one way I’m trying to do it beginning right now.