I wouldn’t exactly say the world is ending. But there’s something that’s been on my heart for years now. This phenomena that’s been happening right before our eyes. A mindset that is unintentionally impacting our children’s future happiness and dividing our nation. I’m sure there’s a fancy name for it. I simply call it black and white thinking. And I think we’re heading towards lives full of disappointment and depression if we don’t actively start working on this. For the sake of our children, and for the sake of ourselves.
Last year, my cousin Julie published a book, Bully-ve in Yourself: A Tale of Two Stories. It’s brilliant, and couldn’t have come at a better time. The book is read two ways: from front-to-back, telling the story from “the bully’s” perspective. And from back-to-front, telling the story from the other child’s perspective. The center portion includes thought questions to encourage conversation and empathetic listening. Imagine that. A child comes home complaining about another child. And maybe… just MAYBE there’s another side to the story. This book will truly open the minds of any child who reads and discusses it with their parents. But I couldn’t help but think that every adult I know, including myself, is guaranteed to benefit from these types of discussion questions. At this time when we’re JUST. SO. DIVIDED.
Some experts blame technology for such division. Or the (social) media. Some blame our lack of present-day attention, and the fact that we simply want to pick a side and move on without taking the time to learn the facts. Some blame our political leaders. What I’d love is for us to stop overanalyzing who’s to blame, and instead focus on how we can better understand each other.
We must start to LISTEN. And I mean truly listen. Open our hearts and ears during REAL LIFE conversations and LISTEN. Try our very hardest to empathize with alternative perspectives. Even if, at our core, we don’t agree with one thing being said. Even if it’s incredibly uncomfortable to do so. Everyone deserves to be heard, and each one of us have lived a life of experiences that have formed our unique set of beliefs. It’s amazing how far this simple idea can go in helping us to tolerate others. A recent blog post from our local Saratoga Independent School shares how their “Responsive Classroom” approach weaves this social and emotional learning into daily teaching at SIS. This results in an environment that puts diversity and mutual respect first.
I see this play out ALL the time with my oldest son who has major social challenges. When meds are not adequate or he’s feeling anxious about something, he can be very rude. When the special ed team organized a discussion where he was able to listen to the other boys share how his words negatively impact them, and they can better understand what causes his inconsistent behaviors, it did SO much good. It saved friendships.
Then there are my other kids, who are SO quick to share stories about the “bad kids” at school. “Mom, he got detention AGAIN! Can you believe it?” Until I ask lots of questions. And we discuss why that child may be acting that way. And what could be going on at home. And what learning disabilities that child could have, and… The light bulb goes off in those little brains as they look at “the bully” a little differently. And this time, with empathy.
As we move on from the pandemic, we have a long way to go in our willingness to understand others. And while many of us will be catching our children up academically, I think the lessons that will make the biggest impact on our children’s lives will be taught at home. Whether it’s through the questions in Julie’s book or simple dialogue, teaching the next generation to have empathy for people with differing opinions will create happier, more tolerant humans. And by facilitating these discussions you’re registering yourself for the most valuable life long learning course along the way.