40 Days: 031010-D22.0

Good evening. It is 8:11 p.m.

The fact that I did not write in my blog yesterday would have been devastating 22 days ago. I would have seen this as a failure to complete anything, and it would have derailed me to, perhaps, abandon this journey.

But this is not 22 days ago.

Instead, I am here now, ready to share news and insights with you.

Before I tell you about two people I had the honor of seeing today, I want to share another incident that happened.

In the evening class that I teach, my students turned in their papers two weeks ago, and I was returning them tonight. I had all but one paper to hand back, simply because I had neglected to pull it from her email. I went to apologize to her for not having it, and she looked at me rather incredulously and handed me her paper. “I’m really sorry,” she said. “I never sent it. I was hoping I could turn it in tonight.” It took me a moment to realize that I didn’t miss the email at all. I never had it to begin with.

Now, I was presented with two options: be critical of the fact that she did not turn it in until now, or be grateful that I hadn’t missed it, and accept her work graciously.

I chose the latter, and she seemed relieved.

Later, after class ended, a few students hung around talking about potential topics for their I-Search projects. She was one of them, and she contributed freely to the conversation. In fact, we came up with a possible team project that she seemed excited about.

I can guarantee you that, if I chose the former, and I disciplined her for being late, she would have left the room as soon as class was dismissed, grateful that we were finally done.

I am absolutely certain that, a month ago, I would have, at the very least, shown shades of disappointment to make her feel bad about being so late.

Who am I to admonish her for being late? What gives me the power to close doors, to make her feel badly about turning in the paper late? Who am I to judge?

Kindness, love, support, belief, faith, hope. These should be our reactions. They create opportunities, foster a stronger environment, provide fertile ground for discussion.

* * *

Now: I want to tell you about two people that I talked with today. Extraordinary events in every way.

The first was with a friend that I had not seen in five years. She was a student of mine in 2005; she had taken the very class that I am now teaching on Wednesday evenings. It was beyond wonderful to see her. We did not have much time to talk, but our conversation was both personal and enlightening. Much has happened in the five years since we last saw each other at the end of that semester. We talked about the deaths of our parents as much as we talked about priorities in our lives. We were so comfortable talking, even with so much time passing between us.

I don’t know why I was surprised by this, though. Our conversation was real, genuine, regardless of the various differences between us. What mattered was that we have a genuine respect for each other, and that made our conversations universal. In other words, it was about the other person, and not about ourselves.

How many times do we do that with others? We are more focused on what we’re thinking and less on what the other person is saying or doing. I can’t tell you how many conversations have been enriched in the last three weeks because I have done two things:

  1. I did not interrupt, and
  2. I established eye contact.

These simple things can change the whole tone of a conversation between two people. They immediately let the other person know that you care about what they are saying, and you value their words.

Try it. The next time you have a conversation, face to face, with a friend, family member, or colleague, don’t interrupt and establish eye contact. I guarantee one of two things will happen: either you will have a better conversation or you will scare the person you are with, who will be wondering what’s gotten in to you….

My bet’s on the better conversation. 🙂

The second person I talked with today made a statement that I understand fully. She said,

It’s not like I’m religious or anything, but every time I read about that non-profit group helping those sick kids, It’s like a boost in my faith.

I’ve probably heard this comment hundreds of times before, where people say they are not religious, but they have great faith.

What’s worse is that I’ve probably said the same thing many hundreds more times.

Here was my variation:

I’m not religious; I’m spiritual.

When she said this to me, I had this sudden flashback of the countless times I’ve proclaimed this to others. And then, I realized the fear we have in proclaiming our faith, whatever that may be in.

We are afraid to say that we are religious. We are afraid to say that we believe in something. We are afraid to use words like Christian and Jesus Christ and God. Instead, we talk around it; we say that we have faith. We say that we “believe,” but we’re afraid to talk openly about Christianity, Jesus Christ, or God.

Why is that? What is the root of the fear? Is it because of persecution? Judgment? A separation from others?

Are we afraid that we will lose friends if we openly state that we are Christians? And if we lose them, were they through-and-through friends to begin with?

I understand that people don’t like religion “shoved down” their throat. But there’s a big difference between making a general statement about your faith and trying to coax others to convert. Somewhere along the way, I think these two concepts merged and struck fear in both the believers and the non-believers alike. One group is afraid to admit any religious faith, and the other group is perched and ready to cry foul when any of these words are mentioned in their presence.

Maybe if we judged less and listened more, looked at others more intently, and better respected another’s right to be (or not be) religious, all of our relationships would strengthen, thus presenting new opportunities for kindness and love.

It’s not a pipe dream, folks. Not a fantasy or some wack-o dream. It’s simple. It’s do-able. It’s needed in our world.

Right now.

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3 thoughts on “40 Days: 031010-D22.0

  1. Hmmmm this one has me thinking… not the second part of your message (which is great btw)… but the first part.
    My dilemma is: is it fair for someone to hand in their work when every other student handed theirs in on time? Is it acceptable that someone misses a deadline by 2 weeks without any communication prior to that time? Are we then teaching the student its ok to be late and disregard deadlines and not have any accountablility?
    I am in no way saying tar and feather this student… mistakes happen and things are sometimes forgotten. But deadlines etc are the responsibility of the student. Doesnt seem like any explaination was offered to you and why wait 2 weeks before communicating this delay with you? A quick email would have resolved things. Most professors I dont believe would have been as understanding as you. You asked “Who am I to admonish her for being late? What gives me the power to close doors, to make her feel badly about turning in the paper late?” You are her teacher! I am glad things worked out and that she felt good about herself to participate etc.. and I agree she may not have done that if during the class she had her mind on the late paper (I dont know- depends on her personality and type of student she is) but you also cant loose site of individual responsibilities and consequences for our actions.

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  2. Good thoughts, Michele. And I must apologize for leaving out so many details in this little story. I hope this clarifies a few things.
    1. There are consequences for turning in papers late, and she is not immune to receiving a lower grade because of turning it in late.
    2. She did email me, which is why I thought that I had forgotten the paper; however, she was emailing me about being late with the paper. Unfortunately, I was just looking for emails with attachments when I downloaded other student papers.

    My comments about admonishing, closing doors, and making her feel badly all refer to how I reacted to the situation personally. If the punishment is already in place (which affects her overall grade on the paper), why do I need to further punish her by demonstrating anger or disappointment toward her? I’m sure she felt enough embarrassment being the only person who didn’t receive a paper back.

    I hope that helps clarify the point I was trying to make. I think too many teachers take it upon themselves to “parent” the students by using anger or disappointment. Part of the learning process is making mistakes and moving on. We don’t need to add emotional reactions to simple things like late papers or missed assignments. Certainly, our students are not missing these papers on purpose or with malice or ill will. I can save those emotional reactions when students make poor choices intentionally.

    Thanks again, Michele. I always welcome your responses and appreciate your insight.

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  3. I agree with Michelle’s comment and was glad you clarified that the student was getting a lower grade for handing the paper in late.
    I was going to comment, though, on your comment about people not wanting to say they are “religious” and I think it has much to do with right-wing, ultra-conservative christian groups (and even the roman catholic church with all its pronouncements on what is good and evil, acceptable and unacceptable). The term “religious” has become synonymous with “judgmental” and implies an adherence to a set of beliefs that inherently makes others’ beliefs wrong (or evil). “Spirituality” does not have that connotation; quite the opposite, in fact. It implies that one is open and seeking answers for oneself.
    I think there is a difference between a religious christian and a spiritual christian; the former follows a literal interpretation of christian dogma without thinking and the latter views it all as literature/philosophy and interprets its meaning for himself.

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