“My life is based on pain, passion, and purpose.” ~ Elijah Cummings.
One of the problems for researchers who wish to observe the interactions of humans, is that the very act of observation changes those interactions. We see this every day now, with people trying to go ‘viral’ with their homemade videos. We may be entertained or shocked by an apparently spontaneous act of courage or more likely, one of moronic stupidity that can only end badly. Nowadays my first instinct is to suspect that the whole thing has been an elaborate set up. I wonder whether we, as a society, are becoming less spontaneous, thinking ahead to the posted photos rather than enjoying the moment.
There are other times when our first, spontaneous response to a situation is best restrained. I know that in my interactions with students I have had to learn to try to pause, to think about the best way of saying something so as to be as constructive as possible. Of course, that can be very challenging at times! Teaching math to adult learners in order for them to be able to calculate dosages accurately has taught me patience. The age of technology has saved us a lot of time and effort, but it also seems to be leading to the atrophy of brain cells! I don’t know how early they are introducing calculators in schools now, but I am finding more and more students who have no idea what 6 x 7 =…. They may have to add 6 + 6 + 6 etc., etc., before they can tell you. One day I had to show a student (again, we are talking about adult learners), how to subtract 473 from 1000. (You can’t take 3 from zero, so you go to the next number to borrow, but it’s a zero, so you go to the next number, it’s also a zero but you can borrow from 10, leaves 9, now you can borrow…) I developed patience and compassion after hearing about the impact of things like violence in the home, or the poverty that leads to lack of nutrients, upon the development of the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain that we need for learning, for higher thinking. I had to acknowledge that trauma may have impacted the early life of these students.
They say we can learn (and teach) empathy through the arts. Novels, poems, plays can help us to imagine the lives of those who look nothing like us. And that is where empathy is the most powerful. We are living through what are being called ‘polarized’ times. We are pulling away and apart from each other at a time when united action is needed on many fronts. We have no difficulty showing empathy to those we relate to. Researchers did an experiment with football (soccer) supporters. (With apologies to the researchers, I may not remember the precise details). They had a group of football fans read an article on their favorite football team. They then went on a walk and came upon a man who had fallen and was in pain. The man was wearing a soccer jersey of their main rivals, and most of the group did not want to help him. Another group were given an article about the sport of soccer. When they went on the walk and saw the injured man, they stopped to assist him. By programing the fans to think of the sport in general, the fans were predisposed to see any soccer fan as ‘one of them.’
Of course, we are human, and we tend to identify with those who look like us. Recently, the response of the brother of a man murdered in his own home to the policewoman who killed him prompted a spontaneous outpouring on social media. Was his statement of forgiveness, his impulse to give her a hug, was that an act of great strength, of largeness of character, of Christianity? Or was he a fool, a ‘sops’, was he an example of how black people let white people off the hook all the time? I have to admit my first instinct was to applaud his strength, and I noted that healing often begins with forgiveness. When those who have been victimized hold on to anger, to a wish for revenge, they often get stuck in that pain and are not able to move on. In one discussion thread I was challenged to back up my words with research that supported my comments! I wish all readers were as quick to challenge what they read!
But if we are to grow as a society, we have to allow people to feel their feelings. Those who responded to his public demonstration of forgiveness with anger and righteous indignation have as much right to feel angry, as those who were impressed. Those who suspected his motivations have a right to their feelings too. The point is that we have to make room for all of these reactions if we are to move forward. Who am I to tell you how to feel? I heard about a new play that openly explores racism, discrimination and bigotry. One of the actresses described the play as being a ‘brave space’, a place where the actors are permitted to air the uncomfortable, to share the pain they have felt without being concerned about hurting the feelings of those watching. When we can feel the pain of those whose backgrounds, cultures, race are completely different than our own, then we can truly claim to have empathy. Today we are mourning a man who lived that empathy, Elijah Cummings demonstrated righteous indignation when indicated, matched with loving compassion.
This morning I am remembering a Friday morning 40 years ago today (actual date is tomorrow). I spent the night mostly on my hands and knees on my bed, singing ‘Nearer my God to thee’ as I tried to time contractions on a digital clock. My math skills weren’t so good as that steel belt pulled tight around my middle. Like all good nurses, I tried not to call the doctor until the sun started to come up. I had been sent home the night before and told I would probably have false labor for another week only to be woken up in the early hours by the real deal. Those 40 years hve past by in a moment, and the pain (what pain?) did not prevent me from going back three more times! To my daughter who raised me, I hope your next 40 years prove to be as interesting, challenging and rewarding as these last 40 have been to me!
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!