Tag Archives: Personal

Living Gently

A long time ago I encountered the idiom, “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” I didn’t understand it then but have since lived within its meaning. Yesterday, I referenced glass houses while ranting to a friend about people who fail to treat others with dignity and respect. One breath later, I realised that this idiom goes much deeper than that.

We are all fragile beings and encase ourselves in fragile lives. At any moment, we can lose or gain someone or something very meaningful. We don’t know whether we’ll make it home from this errand or that day of work and we don’t know what we’ll discover on the way. We don’t know what a doctor will find during a routine procedure. We don’t know, upon hanging up the phone or clicking send, whether we’ll indeed speak again soon. And furthermore, we don’t know how others’ lives entangle with ours and how that many affect us.

In short, we are fragile and so are our lives. Losing sight of this can lead us to interminably waiting for the right opportunity or the right time. There often is no “right”. Instead, there are opportunities and there are times. Take them when they come because life, because living, is fragile.

With this understanding, it is easy to appreciate how quickly a stone can shatter who we are and how we live.

Treat others gently because they, like you, are fragile. Treat others gently because they, like you, deserve dignity and respect. Treat others gently because they, like you, are only human.

As we walk in the world, it is important to remember that it is not enough to avoid throwing stones. We all live in glass houses. Life throws enough stones and our energy is better spent lifting each other up rather than tearing each other down. Instead, let us acknowledge the fragility of who we are and behave in ways that demonstrate that we accept the same about others.

A Momentary Lull

This is the first moment since the school year began in August that I feel like I might be on top of things. For once I don’t feel as though I’m being pulled in more directions than I can handle at once. Multiple directions, yes, but perhaps I’m naturally flowing into them at appropriate times rather than being pulled and prodded and dragged to places I don’t want to go.

It’s been a while since I’ve had this feeling!

After nine years of teaching, you’d think this would have happened much earlier in the year and to be honest, it should have. About a month ago, sitting down to our first meal in Yunnan, China, I described this year as “the most stressful year since I first started teaching and was voluntold the job of yearbook advisor and was also a graduate student”.

I’m grateful for my friendships and support system; I’ve been leaning heavily.

Also significant is that I have a strong sense of purpose. I’m increasingly interested in how this sense of purpose guides what I do and makes it possible to keep doing what I see as the right thing, or the best thing under given conditions, despite challenges and resistance. On the other hand, I’ve also come to recognise that a sense of purpose is not something that can be taken away: This is important. And that’s where it ends.

Knowing that this is important to me, and letting it guide my attitude (this has been admittedly very tricky) and behaviours, has allowed me to cycle out the gate at the end of each day knowing that I have done the best I can because this is important. This matters.

Knowing that there are others like me doing the same has helped immensely, too. It has given me models to follow when my brain, tired of running and circling, desperately wants to let it all go.

I’ve lived in the world long enough to know that the sense of calm I’m experiencing now is a momentary lull. Something will come up and it will be followed by something else and then something else.

But I’m grateful for this moment of peace.

And sometimes, that’s enough.

On Human Dignity

When I stand in front of you, I am there because I have a right to be. I need no permission and no justification. I am there and so are you.

Which is all you need to see in order to treat me with the dignity I deserve. And I deserve it not because you think so, but because I am there. And so are you.

When you stand in front of me, my only response is to look you in the eye, acknowledge your presence, and treat you with the dignity you deserve. You deserve it because you are human.

Which is all I need to see in order to treat you the way that I, too, have a right to be treated. Because I am human.

I am really, really disturbed. I am scared. I am angry. And so in my own way, I am screaming. Once again, bodies are a topic of discussion in the United States. The women whose bodies these are have been deliberately left out of the conversation. Their agency has been stolen. Their life experiences devalued. And their dignity? Their humanity? Purposely not acknowledged because that would destroy the whole thing.

As a teacher and learner of psychology, I can explain the mechanisms of group cohesion, kinship selection, stereotyping, and self-concept that are at play here.

But as a human, I cannot understand it.

When I was a child, we learned the Golden Rule of treating others the way you want to be treated. One year when I was teaching middle school, my students scoffed at my outdated notions of behavior. It was passé, they made quite clear, to only consider myself when deciding how to treat others. The Platinum Rule, I was told, was to treat others the way they want to be treated.

I smiled at the time, enjoying the moment where students are strong enough to stand up to a teacher when they deem it important. But I had a problem with this idea then and I have a problem with it now.

When you don’t think of others as having human dignity, you cannot treat them the way they’d want to be treated because you fail to see them at all.

Of course, the goal is to view every individual as having dignity merely on the basis of being human. But for those who choose not to do that, at least treating another the way you’d want to be treating forces you to recognize that they have dignity because you do. While this differs dramatically from someone’s having dignity because they do, it’s a start and it’s better than indifference.

In a better world, my students would be right. We should treat others the way they want to be treated because they have dignity. Because they are human. Because they are.

I am an educator because I believe in that world. But I am writing this blog post because I am human and I am screaming.