I think too much. Being in contact with people all day every day gives me plenty of fodder for reflection on human behavior. I try not to judge (even though sometimes I do), or I should say I try not to act on my feelings about what I observe. Instead I use what I see to try and understand people. I think if I can analyze and understand people, it will make me a better mother, teacher, and person.
What I see isn’t always pretty, and that makes it hard to just observe. Which is part of the reason for this blog, maybe: to see something I find unfair or un-okay, understand why it’s unfair or un-okay, and hopefully help others to also realize it’s unfair or un-okay.
It’s no surprise that my recent observation comes from my students. They probably teach me just as much as I teach them. And for the sake of their privacy (lest they ever discover their teacher is a blogger), I’m going to do my best to disguise them. [Sidenote: When I met people in college, I gave them fun nicknames just for my own mind. There was “Rocket sneezer” or “Redneck shirt guy.” If I got to know them personally, I dropped these, but they worked fine for my social recluse purposes. I will give my students these names.]
And so, I bring you…..
The Saga of Hester and the Moral Deputy: Kindness Even to Outcasts
Let’s start by discussing “Moral Deputy.” He’s a great kid, semi-popular, maybe a little bit of a snob. I think he sees his classmates as people who are alive just to amuse him, though. Recently, I overheard him discussing his disagreement with the way a classmate conducts herself. [We’ll call her Hester just because of the striking similarity in their stories.] He even claimed to hate her and “disagree with everything about her.” Now, as a keen observer of these kids, I doubt that the girl has done half of what people claim she’s done [Isn’t that high school?!], but I also know her struggles with feeling accepted, with being able to forgive herself, with making choices with her heart and not her head. I have approached this girl with an attitude of compassion perhaps because I see a little of my teenage self in her. Seemingly thick-skinned, she appears to blow off rude comments, but she internalizes them all, and they really affect her. Anyway, Moral’s quick dismissal of Hester as unworthy really got to me. [I’ll be honest and admit that it bothered me because I know things about Moral, too, and he has no business being anyone’s social judge or executioner. I also know that Moral himself has sought Hester romantically and failed.] But the real reason his dismissal bothered me is because I expected more from him, and this treatment of an outcast is unproductive. He’s approaching someone who already feels beaten and discouraged with the attitude that her very existence is up to be judged. What good can come of that? At the very least, she deserves a little kindness. In addition to making things worse for Hester, Moral has opened himself up to be judged. The whole “people in glass houses” thing; he’s broken his house.
The lesson I’ve come up with out of the teenage drama of Moral Deputy and Hester is this: You don’t have to agree with others, but you should still extend human kindness. To vocalize disapproval for a person’s actions should be a private conversation because a public announcement just perpetuates the idea that this person is to be ostracized and makes you look foolish since (no matter who you are) you aren’t innocent. The only way to help people improve themselves or their behavior (and that should be our goal) is by refraining from judgment and keeping an open mind. We don’t know all the circumstances to everyone’s story, and ultimately, it’s not our job to determine their behavior as acceptable or unacceptable. Don’t be Moral Deputy; it’s not your job. It hurts others and makes you look foolish.
**Since beginning this post, I’ve learned another lesson from Hester. Because I’m already working on my next post, I decided to combine the two. So I give you……
Learning from Hester Part 2: The Importance of Stubborn Support
Hester needs attention. At any cost. She will take it even when she knows it’s not productive. She will take it from people who do not respect her allowing herself to be manipulated. She will take it in the rain; she will take it on a plane… You get the point. I know her attention-seeking behavior could probably be psychoanalyzed a million different ways, but my problem is this: When the attention-getting poo hits the fan, she is thrust into drama-filled situations which she cannot handle.
She comes to me, explains the behavior (which she now realizes was a mistake), and tells me how people are reacting in ways that she finds hurtful. I explain to her that she has to think BEFORE these things happen, that she trusts too easily, that people are not kind judges and that she needs to quit giving them so much fodder for conversation. I even told her, in an attempt to gain her sympathy, that it’s hard for me to keep taking up for her if she keeps making the same mistakes over and over. I mean really, how much ridicule can she take before she realizes she’s got to chill?
And then it hit me. I cannot love Hester’s problems away. No amount of being her social defender is going to make her change. It really is up to her. I can be kind. I can pray. I can lend an ear. But I can’t fix it.
It’s interesting for me to take a step back and look at a situation where I want control but have none. I can’t change her behavior any more than I can change people’s response to it. I am tempted to write her off as a lost cause. Why not? Some of her friends have. Yet, there is something that won’t let me dismiss her.
I feel like it is a special ministry to look at wounded and discouraged girls and say to them, “Stuff gets better.” I feel like my life is an example of miraculous normalcy despite a ridiculously rocky youth. I feel like I can make a difference just by letting them know that I’m not ready to be done with them. There is so much more to them than cutting, eating disorders, depression, promiscuity, drinking, etc. Have I been wrong before? Sure. I’ve been let down repeatedly. But I’ve also seen some girls others called irreversibly damaged grow into beautiful adults. And I’d like to think that I can take some of the credit for that. That they grow up and think about that teacher who was too stubborn to give up on them.
I cannot fix Hester. And I’m pretty bummed every time she messes up. But, it’s my job to give her another chance until she gets it right. She does have to fix herself, but I can be stubbornly supportive and prayerfully hopeful that she figures things out.