This morning I listened to Pedro Noguera talk about partnerships between schools and the communities they serve. He talked about conversations across race, class, language and culture, about how these conversations can go horribly wrong and how the key to their success is talking from a place of empathy rather than judgment or condescension.
That struck me. It’s so simple and obvious, isn’t it? It’s the way all conversations should happen, right? But hearing someone say it out loud really resonated for me. And made me think about the conversations I’ve been having this last year as I’ve been working on this education reform project that consumes my day to day. I want to think I come to people from a place of empathy, but do I? I mean, of course I do … but am I consistently in that place? am I unconsciously in that place and therefore not making any awful missteps I’m not aware of? am I assuming some level of moral/tolerant/empathetic high ground because I’m one of only a few people of color in a leadership role in this project?
I don’t actually think I’ve been making particularly disgusting errors, but I’m sure I’ve been making some errors. Our process has been a little fast and furious for the last year, and there are definitely things that have slipped through the cracks. We’re dilligent, but we’re not perfect.
But that’s not why Noguera’s comment is still ringing in my ears. The idea of approaching our interactions with others — with any “other” we come in contact with — from a place of empathy is powerful. And challenging. And not much on display around us to use as a model. Can we learn that from watching the way our leaders talk to and about one another? Can we learn it from the way any number of people from our doctors to the customer service reps at the phone company to the people we ride next to on the subway interact with one another? As much as I believe that I have been as good as I can be in the community engagement process we’ve initiated, I also know how snarky and surly I can be in my off time, how not lovely I am when you cut in front of me on line or do any of the 10,000 little things you could do that are guaranteed to piss me off.
And that’s normal, of course. Totally human. But why do I reserve my empathetic self for specific audiences only? What does it say about me that I’m not that person all the time?
Hmm … starting the month of slices off on a heavy, contemplative note. See how everyone else is starting the month over at Two Writing Teachers.