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When Words Are Not Enough

Sometimes we write words that have meaning in any number of rhetorical situations. As I scrolled through my various social media outlets this week and took in the anger, frustration, pain, and concern being expressed by friends, family members, and even strangers as we inch our way towards November 8th, I considered words I wrote in one of my class blogs recently. When I wrote the post, I was struggling to respond to a difficult situation in a classroom; and as I come across the political posts, articles, and memes that are currently circulating, I realized that my struggles with my words in that classroom are very similar to the struggles I am having as I look for words in my social media feed—as I try to decide when to respond, when to remain quiet, when to volunteer, and when to walk away.

Here is an excerpt from my post to my class: Over and over I have found myself typing responses to your posts, then erasing them and not posting them. As I wrote, I found myself moving back and forth between ideas and identities, trying to find the words to respond to posts—words that valued experiences, concerns, and ideas but also words that helped people [understand words as] real acts with real consequences. But none of my words worked. Even as I type these words, they do not quite work either. Words can't always do the work we need. We have to let our lives do the work, so this is a glimpse of a teaching life, the life of wrestling words, navigating texts and relationships, weighing decisions.

As I consider this constant wrestling and weighing, I cannot help but think of my daughters and what it is I want for them—of how much I hope that this same type of reflection is infused in my parenting. They are just now old enough to understand bits and pieces of the political rhetoric surrounding them. They know where I stand politically, and they know how I will vote. They have always gone to the polls with me. And they are interested in the election and its results in the ways most children are interested: casually with little sense for long-term effects. They love to bring me memes that they think are funny—memes that make fun of Donald Trump are, admittedly, their current favorites.

But as I look toward November and think about my daughters and their lack of understanding of the ideologies at play in this election, of their innocence and belief that all will be well (because they’ve never experienced anything else), and of their constant observations—watching me and listening to my words even when I am confident that they are engrossed in something completely different, I realize my words aren’t working. So as I have moved back and forth between my own political and ideological beliefs and values, I realize the best thing I can do for my children is to enact my words in every way that I am able. And, in the simplest ways possible, I want to provide them with guidance that is appropriate and that I hope gives them a glimpse of what it means to be a conscientious citizen and community member. For now, at this point in their young lives, I have decided that there are a few values that need to determine the words and actions in our home, but I recognize that these are infused with my own biases and beliefs—still, I am comfortable sharing them. So my daughters:

  1. Never align yourself with hate. Hate comes in all forms, but when you recognize it, go in the other direction—even if that path seems uncertain. There is absolutely no justification for hate. We are called by God to love others. If we accept hate as in any way acceptable, we will never find peace.

  2. Privilege is real. You are privileged in ways that the majority of Americans will never be. We do not need to be ashamed or even feel guilty for privilege, but we are to be responsible. Privilege does not entitle us to anything. In fact, it should be the exact opposite. It should require us to give more, to be more empathetic, and to constantly consider how we can help be the change we want to see in this world.

  3. Always listen and be reflective. I am no political scientist, but I would argue that our nation is in its current crisis because we do not listen to one another. We are not willing to look outside of ourselves and our own lives to hear the concerns, anguish, and defeats (or the joyous celebrations and victories) of those who are not part of our inner circles. We must open our eyes, ears, and hearts to stories that are not our own.

So as we approach November and beyond, I hope I can model these words for my children and for my students. I am not equating parenting with being an educator. I am not a parent to my students, but I am a teacher to my children. And perhaps my role as their primary teacher is to help them see the value in weighing and wrestling with words and actions. But I know one of the primary lessons I want to instill in my children is to recognize and turn away from hate in all of its forms. Hatred consumes in ways that always lead to destruction in some form or another. I pray that they choose to listen to all of the stories, stories similar to and very different from the stories they are creating, and I hope with a mother’s heart that they attempt to honor these stories while simultaneously remaining strong and choosing the path of uncertainty and faith—never the path of hate.

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