My mom always taught me that you can’t control what other people do; you can only control your reaction. I was reminded of this lesson this morning as I woke up to check the election results.
My Facebook feed was filled with strong emotions and reactions. Fear. Despair. Confusion. Sadness. Empathy. Even a little celebration.
As I scrolled, I read posts that channeled these emotions in various directions. Finger-pointing at those who didn’t vote, or who voted third-party. “I told you so’s” from supporters of candidates who were left behind in the primaries. Shame and judgment. Boasting and comments to “suck it up,” or “grow up already, America.” General sadness and dread.
As I’ve learned to do throughout this election cycle, I chose my own reaction: love, compassion, and the realization that the work we’ve been doing continues to be needed. I posted this as my contribution to social media land this morning.
Before you boast, blame, and point fingers, remember that the popular vote is pretty evenly divided. In other words, someone you love and respect voted for a different candidate than you, or perhaps didn't vote at all. If you already believed that America was great, keep up that spirit and hold up your friends and family who are hurting or scared. If you wanted it to be great again, here is your opportunity to live that out - you, too, should hold up your friends and family who are hurting, scared, confused, and hopeless, starting today. Regardless of who sleeps in the White House on January 20th, we are responsible for each other. Let's rise to the occasion and be indivisible.
The divisive nature of this election is what’s alarmed me more than any of the candidates, their policies, or other big picture hypotheticals. In the end, we can only control our own reactions, and we can only impact our respective spheres of influence. I’m choosing to react with love, and to continue doing the work I’ve been doing to make my community better and more equitable.
But I’m also not naïve.
I realize the great privilege that comes with this choice. I can choose not to fear, and to love instead, because I am privileged as a highly educated heterosexual white woman. Yes, I have markers that make me “different,” particularly in my current community, but I do not carry the burden of threat, of further marginalization, of exclusion.
So what do I do with this privilege? Act. Be the change. Leverage my privilege to create opportunities for my friends and neighbors who are marginalized. Because that’s what neighbors do, and that’s how I show love.
My challenge to anyone reading this today is this: act. Channel your frustration into activity that will benefit others. Leverage your privilege to love and protect your neighbors and friends who may feel threatened. Lift each other up. Small steps are all that’s needed; a series of them can make a wave.
Here’s one way for you to act, if you’re keen on empowering the next generation of strong women. But maybe you feel called to act in another way. Maybe you are more passionate about serving the homeless, about LGBTQ issues, about equity for children and adults of color, about advocating for undocumented children and English learners. Find your cause, and act.
Maybe you have more time than money, or more money than time. Act and give in the way that fits best – but, for goodness sake, act. We need that momentum, that unity, right about now.
Need an incentive to act? Send me proof of your action in the weeks to come – a receipt from an online donation to a charity and cause you support, a picture of you doing the work – and I’ll send you a little handmade token of love. E-mail your proof to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let’s keep loving each other. Love always wins.
We see it all the time.
Be the change you want to see in the world.
Noble goals for sure, and ones that could impact the entire trajectory of one’s life. But what would it look like if these were truly guiding principles?
Do we know? Let’s look at some scenarios.
A piece of trash lays on the path in the park
Ugh, people are so gross. Who just leaves their trash wherever? Well, I’m not picking it up. That’s not my job!
A homeless man stands on the corner downtown, with a sign asking for financial help
Just ignore him, kids. He’ll just use any money you give him for booze.
A couple wrangles four small children around Costco on a Saturday
Why do they have to bring all of their kids to Costco? Can’t they see that I’m in a hurry? They should really divide and conquer.
You encounter a co-worker who gets under your skin
Why does she always need to take credit for everything? I’m so sick of hearing her talk about her accomplishments. She’s so insecure.
You pass a man in the aisle at the grocery store
He looks so scary and dangerous with all of his tattoos on his legs. Avoid eye contact, avoid eye contact…
You receive a phone call from a friend who seems to make mistake after mistake
I wish he would just listen to people for a change! How many times have we told him what he should do? It’s a shame he can’t get his life together like the rest of us…
I’d argue that what we think about as we process a given scenario is even uglier than the initial scenario.
The people we laud as great and positive change-makers throughout history came to their success through a series of small (inter)actions born from kindness, from responsiveness, from a personal desire to take action. They didn’t initially make the huge changes that we report on in history books; they began by living congruently with their beliefs, and making small positive impacts in their daily lives and in the lives of those around them. Kindness without fear of consequences.
We say we admire these change-makers, that we wish to emulate them, but our actions say otherwise. Instead, we’re often living contradictions who can easily spout our values in the words that we speak, but who can’t seem to carry out the message that these words contain in our daily lives.
Why are we scared to be kind? What do we have to lose?
I’d argue that we only risk losing a spirit of self-serving judgment. Sounds like something worth losing, no?
We know that we can’t control the behavior of others, yet we let their behavior and reactions control us. On the flip side, we know that we can – and should – control our own actions and reactions, yet we don’t seize this control.
I challenge you to seize it. Be the change, once and for all. Live congruently with your beliefs. Love others unabashedly, and without fear.
Pick up that piece of trash
Give your spare dollars to the homeless man.
Wait patiently as the family moves around the store
Give praise and encouragement to the co-worker
Smile at the fellow grocery shopper as you pass by
Listen to the friend
In all of this, we give of ourselves. We take small steps through small actions, but these small efforts eventually quash the fear that we’re giving something up. Rather, as we give of ourselves, we gain in return: congruency with our values. Building up the stores of love and kindness in the world.
A sense of accomplishment as we’re finally being the change we want to see.
Kindness without fear.
Things haven’t exactly been quiet in the MtC household, but there’s been little space to process or write about it. Almost immediately upon returning to our home after our big road trip, we were swept back up in all. the. things.
A new running training plan.
Catching up with friends.
Prepping for a new semester.
Crap – is my tenure mid-term portfolio done?
It’s been the clunkiest start yet to a new school year for me. Some of this is circumstantial: teaching an extra overload course, part of new committees, my first new course prep in a while. But some of it comes down to my perspective, and not reaching my own random – and possibly ill-conceived – expectations.
The four-week intensive class that I teach to kick off each semester adds another layer to this mix, and has been the focus of much of my emotional energy recently. Most of my students in this course are in an exceptional circumstance of their own – the first year of teaching while finishing their last semester of coursework – and I vowed to them that I would be both empathetic and sympathetic as we moved through this work together.
A week and a half in, I’d abandoned both.
Why weren’t they taking my class seriously? Why weren’t they doing their best work? Why were they bringing their classroom frustrations to my class, when we had other things to learn and talk about?
I spent days stewing about this. Venting to colleagues. Questioning my own expectations, as well as my students’ worth. Not a good place, nor the type of space I like to occupy as a colleague.
One night late last week, three weeks into the course, I was venting to my husband over dinner. He and I frequently talk about the topic of objectives, as I’ve helped him learn to use objectives to frame the trainings he conducts. As I whined that my students weren’t meeting even half of the objectives I set out for them, he challenged me:
“What if your objectives are bad? What if they’re not the right objectives for this course, and for these students?”
He was right.
In abandoning my empathy and sympathy for my students, I let myself wallow in my own bottomless bucket of self-pity. I was no longer grateful for the opportunity I was given at this moment.
To hear my students talk about how they spend the first weeks of the year establishing a safe, caring, and inclusive classroom community that values each and every learner, and maintains high expectations.
To bear witness to my students turn the corner from “teacher candidates” to “teachers.” To hear them act as professionals to share their strategies for being respectful yet firm with parents, for assessments that uncover their students’ strengths and areas for growth, for how to buck textbook trends in favor of meaningful lessons.
All those things we’d spent semesters preparing them to do? The characteristics we hoped they’d embody to become the teachers we hoped they’d be? They are doing it, and doing it well.
And I almost missed seeing any of it, just because of my own frustration with not getting through a random set of “nice-to-read” enrichment readings in my course.
I needed a gratitude adjustment to see all of this. To recognize that I had the opportunity to see the fruits of my and my colleagues’ labor. To celebrate the teachers our students had become seemingly overnight.
I’m glad I’ve landed here. While the next couple of weeks will be filled with papers to grade, feedback to give, lessons to teach, meetings to attend, and workshops to facilitate, I’m making the choice to shift my attitude.
To be present as they ask their real and pressing questions from their real and pressing classrooms.
To be empathetic as they worry about self-care while they balance multiple worlds on their shoulders.
To be grateful for these moments I’m given.