Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Reflecting on Ferguson

If we're destroying our trees and destroying our environment and hurting animals and hurting one another and all that stuff, there's got to be a very powerful energy to fight that. I think we need more love in the world. We need more kindness, more compassion, more joy, more laughter. I definitely want to contribute to that.

---Ellen DeGeneres

As I reflect on the tragic circumstances surrounding Ferguson, MI I can't help but think of how I, a 5th grader teacher, can make a positive impact.  Thinking of how some of the citizens reacted to the decision not to indict the officer in question left many of us speechless.  But really, how would we expect them to behave?  This is a community with limited resources and par to sub par educational experiences.  What have they been taught?  They see our government react with violence, they see talk shows that glorify fighting on the stage, they hear lyrics of songs that celebrate violence.  They have learned, like many others have, that if you don't like what someone else does, fight.  Talking gets you nowhere.  

So I have to ask myself, how am I contributing to this mentality or am I teaching an alternative mentality?  I teach at a Title 1 school and many of my students have expressed frustration with their peers and teachers and life circumstances with anger and threats of violence.  I believe it is simply because they know of no other way to have their voices heard and their feeling validated.  
This situation in Ferguson is an opportunity for educators everywhere to inject compassion-based, service-based, empathy projects into their classroom and on their campuses.  We must teach our students how to be the hope in the hopeless, the help in the helpless.  We must teach them alternative ways of expressing their frustrations, how to be part of the solution.  
What I have listened to all day, the day after the violence and looting ensued after the decision was announced, is a lot of complaining, fear, condemnation, and blaming.  However, not once have I heard anyone show compassion, validate the feelings of ALL of the citizens, or offer a solution.  So I am offering a solution.  
Have your students learn to communicate their feelings and frustrations calmly and with assertiveness.  Teach them HOW to speak in a way that grabs the listener's attention without being threatening.  Teach your students to LISTEN with empathy; to hear with their hearts and put their own anger aside enough to truly listen.  We must teach them to negotiate, compromise, and problem solve by considering all angles of the problem.  
With absolutely no judgment on either side of this tragic situation, I simply feel compassion for all parties.  The police officer is human and we all make mistakes.  Whether this was his mistake or not is not for me to judge.  He took a child's life.  The judgment he will certainly face is far greater than anything I might say.  And what I could say would serve no purpose. Michael Brown lost his life.  Regardless of his actions, it is not my place to judge him either.  His family is suffering the greatest loss possible.  Blaming him serves no purpose.  The citizens who are peacefully protesting are making a point, but could there be a better solution?  That would be a conversation necessary to have.  As for the looters and violent citizens, I am in no place to judge them either.  They are filled with fear, resentment, anger, feelings of betrayal, and feel hopeless and helpless.

As an educator, I commit to contribute to the solution by modeling, encouraging, and TEACHING empathy and compassion with communication and listening skills.  All of us MATTER.  It is time we start cultivating a fearlessness within ourselves to set our egos aside and to come together with mutual respect and empathy to solve these problems.  My hope is that uniting together as educators, we can change the world one heart at a time.   

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.-- Dalai Lama

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