Reflection for Breakfast

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.


16 thoughts on “Reflection for Breakfast

  1. Thanks for sharing your thinking. This idea, “And not much on display around us to use as a model,” about few examples of empathy was striking to me. Thank you for giving me pause and think about how I can show empathy to everyone.


    1. Thank you, Ruth. Your writing can be one of those models for me — as can the writing of other slice-of-life writers. I know none of us is perfect, but the thoughtfulness and willingness to learn that I read in the slices always impresses me.


  2. Paul

    Have you come across Jeremy Rifkin’s thoughts on this subject? The YouTube video:

    What you’re touching on here requires a major — and I think necessary — realignment of our values. Capitalism is great, but competition and self-preservation at the expense of empathy is no way to run a human community.

    Thoughtful writing; thanks for it!


    1. That was great! I’d never hear of Rifkin, so thank you for the introduction. A realignment of values and accepted behavior is definitely in order. I’ve been working on that professionally for the last year … just not seeing / acknowledging that I need to do some work personally, too.


  3. I’m happy to see us connecting again. I guess it takes Slice of Life to foster those connections. Your post reminds me of how much we instinctively seem to harbor mistrust for those who are not like us (physically, socio-economically, intellectually, etc.), and how difficult it is to break through those feelings and remind ourselves to remain open to possibilities at all times. Empathy is a key.
    A thoughtful slice to start the month …


    1. Wish I could keep up a year-long connection. I miss all the wonderful writing from your blog and those of the other slicers.

      So difficult to get past mistrust — even to admit to the mistrust — and be fully open to difference and change. I think today’s slice is forming in my head right now …


  4. Hi Stacie. So good to “see” you again after all these years. I remember you fondly from my last slicing days.

    I hear you on the empathy. And it doesn’t get better as I get older. I apologized to Olivia once for being a mean mommy. She told me that I wasn’t mean, just a little grumpy some times. I think it has something to do with introversion. Are you an introvert? I think I only have so much cheerfulness to give to others and then I am just too wiped out to do any more. I have to use it wisely.


    1. It can be exhausting, can’t it? Bringing our best selves to every table every time is work. And sometimes it’s just too hard (and we’re too tired and too stressed and too overwhelmed …) to get the job done. I like your note about using it wisely. I’m going to think about that, about pacing myself as it were.

      So nice to see you here again!


  5. In all honesty, it’s hard to be emphatic with subjects in which I feel little, or worse, nothing for. Sometimes, the lack of empathy is what is needed at the moment to get the action that is needed done. Still, even with one’s most beloved subjects, one cannot be 100%, 100% of the time. We wake up on the wrong side of the bed on morning, someone/something is going to catch a piece of that less than 100% until we can right ourselves.

    Even when not at our best, most can tell when the heart is right place, even if the words/actions are not. All we can do is do the best we can.

    PS: You might like this:


    1. You’re so right, Raivenne. I don’t think anyone can manage that level of care and compassion 24/7. I’m interested in figuring out whether I can begin to consciously incorporate it into my interactions, though. Can I remember to pause and take a breath before answering a rude person rudely? Can I not fill my head up with ugly thoughts that I never say but which fester in my brain and make me cranky?

      Thanks so much for the award! I’m truly honored, especially now when I’m struggling to be a regular blogger again. Thanks!


  6. Hey Lady,
    Coming to you from Aruba :). But I am so happy to see you slicing :).
    I have become a lover of the educational reform practiced in Finland and there’s a new book about how they created change. For them it was all about equity of opportunity and many other wonderful things without testing and bashing teachers.
    I am sure your heart is heard,


    1. Hi, Bonnie–
      Thanks for checking in from vacation! Hope you and Tuvia are having a wonderful trip. Have a little sun-soak for me!

      And thanks for the heads up about some reading to add to my list. Sounds good. As for me, I suspect my heart was almost always heard when I was in the classroom. My best, most empathetic self was always on offer for my students. Not so sure about everyone else, though. Working on it!


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