Have you ever been with a group of people that you thought might have many of the same feelings as you, only to find the conversation drift off in a different direction than you had anticipated?
Maybe it didn’t event drift. Maybe it sprinted down a dangerous, negative slope and left you shaking your head and wondering how this happened. How did we get here? How can these people feel this way?
Let me back up here. Recently, in writing about my discovery of the enneagram, I confessed that “I’m usually not judgmental unless you hit certain key topics about which I have taken time to form a definite strong opinion.” Otherwise, I usually listen to people’s opinions with an open mind.
As an elementary teacher for twenty years, education of children with diverse backgrounds, abilities, and experiences is a topic about which I feel strongly.
I taught children from many cultures and countries. At one point, I counted fourteen flags hanging in our cafeteria, flags that represented the country of origin of the children in our school. Our attendance area included homes that sold for a half million dollars, apartments that were federally subsidized, and everything in between. In addition to children who resided in the area, I taught children who rode buses for almost an hour as they traveled to my school from the inner city in a voluntary desegregation program. At times, kids rode cabs to school from temporary homes when they were legally considered homeless. We had an ABA classroom for children with autism. We had a second special education teacher who worked almost exclusively with other children with autism and two additional special education resource teachers. There were several reading teachers who met with children that struggled learning to read but who were not on the special education rosters. Over twenty percent of our students qualified for free or reduced lunch.
All of those children had a story. When you teach eight year olds, you learn their stories.
As you can guess, I feel strongly about the education of children from all backgrounds.
Four or five years ago, I was meeting with a group of women that I thought I knew fairly well. Somehow, the topic turned to a conversation about the fear that many of them had of people from the Mideast. In my mind, the conversation was ugly as I began to feel that there was more than fear involved.
These women basically seemed to believe that all people from Mideastern countries were probably out to harm Americans. At least that’s the way I felt the conversation was leaning.
Three of us in the group tried, unsuccessfully, to point out the “error in thinking” if you will, in the conversation that was occurring around us. I took note of the fact that all three of us were teachers or retired teachers. Our arguments fell on deaf ears.
This is the first time I remember that I consciously began telling stories. I didn’t know what else to say and I was very uncomfortable. None of the stories were long. They didn’t contain a lesson. They were not cautionary tales. They were not preceded with the pointing of a judgmental finger. They were just stories from the heart about children I knew and their families.
“You know, this makes me think of a sweet little girl I had in my class. Her father was a medical doctor in a particular country. So many horrible things happened to other family members that he brought his wife and children here. This doctor now works at the local chain hardware store because he’s not allowed to practice medicine here.”
“I loved this one family from the Mideast. Dad’s brother was killed in the violence there. The kids knew that. They saw this constant death all around them. Dad brought his family here. This man was a mechanical engineer in his home country and now works night shift stocking at a local store.”
The ladies became silent and moved on to the next topic of conversation. Hopefully they reflected on my stories for a couple of days. I don’t know.
I found an excuse to stop meeting with that group.
I wonder if my stories made a difference in their thinking.