I recall numerous time when I was still a school girl that my entire class was called to task for supposed transgressions. We would all gather together and be told just how awful we were. (At least that’s how it sounded at the time.) Since I knew that I had done nothing to deserve the tongue lashing guilt trip I learned how to turn off the harangues. If our accusers ever said anything important I never heard it. Those lectures did nothing to motivate me. Quite the contrary. I simply felt anger and a sense of injustice.
Later I worked for a lovely person who had all the best intentions for improving our school but as far as I was concerned she went about it in the wrong way. Perhaps her methodologies reminded me too much of those scoldings of my youth. She would observe my teaching and then request my presence for an assessment of what she had seen happening. Virtually all of the time she only pointed out what she viewed as the problems with the way that I did things. After several meetings like this I finally asked her if she had ever noticed me doing something right. She quickly insisted that most of my teaching was quite excellent and that she only pointed out the small difficulties to help me to improve. I had to admit to her that by always telling me what I had done wrong I had not felt compelled to make positive change. Instead I felt that I would never be able to please her and so I had all but given up. She seemed genuinely surprised to hear the way I had interpreted her actions and immediately apologized profusely.
Of late there seems to be a tendency by many individuals and groups to point out all of the flaws of our society without ever noting the things that we have done right. Just as very little in the world is completely perfect, so too are few situations one hundred percent bad. I would suggest that those who advocate change should appeal to our good side rather than constantly noticing our warts. Constant negativity is generally a turn off for almost everyone.
I suppose that there are those who respond to attempts to make them feel guilty but most of us are much more emotionally healthy than that. We prefer instead to build on strengths rather than nagging about weaknesses. I’ve rarely met anyone who does not have some sort of redeeming features upon which to base change. I realize that we do have sickness and evilness in our midst and that these kinds of issues are difficult if not impossible to overcome. Still the vast majority of us will generally respond to appeals to our sense of fairness as long as we believe that our beliefs will be respected.
In today’s environment we often hear that our ancestors did horrific things and that the DNA of western culture is deeply flawed. It is as though some of us are eternally stained with an original sin that we have little power to eliminate unless we agree to confess our wrongdoings and wear hair shirts as proof of our goodwill. It feels as though we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. I would venture to guess that many people have simply turned off the noise just as I once did when I was a student.
I worked with thousands of students over the years. I learned that most of them wanted to please and desired to enjoy academic success. There were moments when some of them had duly earned punishments but good old fashioned positive reinforcement worked better than any other methods to keep most of them motivated to learn. They also responded well whenever I gave them opportunities to voice their concerns without inserting my own judgements. The result was often an agreement to compromise that propelled everyone forward. Sadly the art of listening has been tainted these days. Too many discussions never go anywhere because each person is just too busy thinking of a rebuttal rather than considering the other person’s point of view. It’s impossible to resolve differences in such an atmosphere and somehow this has become the most prevalent way of doing things.
We have so many real and pressing problems as we enter 2016. I doubt that we will solve any of them until we choose to value everyone. I have grown quite weary of the chronic negativity. I know that my own words have often been misunderstood. When I defend an individuals’s right to a certain way of life or a particular belief it does not mean that I think that they are right. It simply means that I understand that each of us chooses different ways to approach the problems. Luckily in this country we are supposed to enjoy the freedom to be ourselves as long as we do not maliciously break laws or harm others.
My wish for 2016 is that we will somehow begin to take our pledge of allegiance to heart. I’d like to really be one nation under God (in His many forms or not all all if one prefers) with liberty and justice for all. This means that we will value all of our differences and understand that it is in embracing even those with whom we disagree that we become better.
It’s time for us to begin looking for what is right about our country and our fellow humans rather than impugning one another over and over again. It does us little good to insist that anyone who supports Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders is insane. Instead we might want to learn what that person is thinking without uttering a single word of disagreement. We may be amazed to learn that we are closer to wanting the same outcomes than we ever thought. We may just have different ideas as to how to reach our goals. Instead of unfriending the people whose politics or religion beliefs or philosophies differ from ours we may want to try appealing to their goodness with a small compliment and a willingness to hear them out without argument.
I recently read about a woman who had once belonged to the Westboro Baptist Church and had been one of the staunchest advocates against same sex marriage. Because a gay person really listened to her and modeled exemplary behavior she ultimately began to question her own thinking. Over time she saw the error of her ways and changed her feelings. Because the other person had valued her opinion and attempted to understand her without recrimination she began to reflect on her entire way of thinking. It was not criticism that changed her. It was kindness.
One of the most basic human needs is to be understood. The best way to do that is to listen to what each person has to say. We have a long way to go to come together once again but I believe in the innate goodness of us all. I think that we will ultimately find a way to come together for all the right reasons. My goal for the year of 2016 is to remember to be patient and kind. Being positive is the key to change.