“Life isn’t just about darkness or light, rather it’s about finding light in the darkness.”
Human nature is a funny thing. It’s my experience that once I have a first impression of a person, I have a difficult time changing it. Whether I was teaching grade 3 or grade 9, I always chatted about the importance of the hand shake. Ensure that you have a hand shake that is firm but not overly tight, showing confidence but not so forceful as to make the recipient uncomfortable. Why did I do this? First impressions matter.
I’m not certain if this is a survival instinct from our more primitive times, but it would make sense if it was. Early humans would have had to make quick decisions about trust and if they were wrong, paid for it dearly. “That lion seems to be showing me it’s teeth . . . . I’m sure it’s nothing.” And there goes the species! God likely implanted in us the common sense to judge quickly and react. It made us a particularly strong species for if not for that divine gift, we would not have outlasted the more voracious species.
But, like many gifts, there can be another side to first impressions that are unhealthy. Because we have preconceived notions of someone, we can jump to an ill conceived impression that is incorrect and allow us to view someone as an “other”. When we see someone as an “other” we do not see the common threads of humanity granted by God but rather the differences. When we don’t see someone as equal, or with a sameness, It’s a little easier to dismiss them. We see it in the current political realm. I don’t agree with you, you’re a __________ fill in the blank (socialist, capitalist, bleeding heart, boomer, millennial) . You do not matter. Just watch the news, polarization is everywhere.
The irony is, as teachers, this is the very thing that we try to eliminate in our practice. We see the potential for growth in the students that we serve. We see the little ragamuffin come through the door and we dig deep to see the child that could emerge. We reach out and smother the misfits that enter our class because we know they need it more than most. We dig deep into our empathy and we try to love those kids up. Most teachers are masterful at this. How often do we see kids bloom under the guidance of a certain teacher? How often do we see adults remember a certain teacher who saw the light in them and helped form who they are as an adult?
Do we cut this same slack to adults? Do we see adults who are a little unlike us in the same light as we see the students in our class. It’s something we need to work on, at least I do. Sometimes I get an impression of a person and it sticks and I don’t give the person a second chance. “That person has week relational skills” Dismiss. “That person talks insistently about them self” Dismiss. “That person never smiles” Dismiss. There is a very big problem with the “dismiss”. It creates the concept of other.
We see the concept of “other” on the national stage in the form of political polarization. If you’re not aligned with the current ruling party, everything they do is wrong. We see “othering” in families “Karen is always the loud one, just ignore her.” We even see “othering” in our staff rooms. Seems to me that there is always that one teacher who is the outlier that people tend to dismiss – they are different and what they say is a little crazy. I think i’ll simply avoid that table.
Are we giving people the opportunity to share openly and without judgement? Would we react to them the same way if we didn’t have history with them? Are we giving people the opportunity to grow and change as they mature? It’s a tricky, slippery slope. one I tend to slip down a little too regularly.
One thing I do need to remind myself of frequently is that we are all works in progress. We were gifted this life and we change and grow constantly. We ask people to allow us to change and grow but do we allow it in others? It’s certainly something that’s got me thinking lately. I need to allow people to grow in my eyes. It’ll create a better world if we all allow that. Like we do with our students, we take them from where they are and we relish in their growth. Do we have the capacity to do the same with the adults in our lives? I think we do.