It is a mistake to think that there are times when you can safely address a person without love. You can work with objects without love – cutting wood, baking bricks, making iron—but you cannot work with people without love. In the same way as you cannot work with bees without being cautious, you cannot work with people without being mindful of their humanity. It is the quality of people as it is of bees: if you are not very cautious with them, then you harm both yourself and them. It cannot be otherwise, because mutual love is the major law of our existence.
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, German philosopher
Last week was Spring Vacation for some of our grandchildren. (That’s why you haven’t heard from me this week. Hang in there for this longish download) Of course, there are stories. Learning stories happen for me whenever grandkids are around.
These grandchildren of ours I’m talking about here are Chinese American. They love to go to a local Chinese Restaurant and order pot stickers, noodles, and King Crab sushi…which we did when they visited.
We were the only patrons. The lack of business allowed for conversation with our server, Sallie, (her Americanized pseudo name) who was from mainland China. She was curious about the children and how they were being raised by a Chinese mother and an American father…and grandparents.
Both the kids and I shared some of our joys and struggles. We all had a lot to say.
Sallie said she planned to stay in the United States. She acknowledged some good things about China but said she was alarmed by the lack of courtesy – students who were pushed to be good in academics but knew nothing about human relationships.
Through compressed lips, Sallie, hissed that even in this U.S. Chinese restaurant the Chinese owner’s mother (the waipo) constantly criticized her. “It’s hard for me to do my best when she is around.” “I really don’t like her and her ignorant ways of treating me.”
“It’s like that among many people in China. Harsh criticism, competition, pushing constant academic study, and little civility – little understanding of how to be in relationship, how to treat each other. Of how to motivate people in more effective ways.”
According to Sallie the problem is widespread with parents, business owners, government, school environments…everywhere a lack of civility. After Sallie vented a bit, she settled down and said she hopes and believes it will change in China.
I told Sallie that it’s often not so much better in the United States. We seem to be losing touch with how to relate well to each other as human beings.
Later, a group of us got together Sunday night to watch a DVD which brought back this problem about being able to see each other – all others…people of different ethnicities, people of different genders and orientations, people of different ages (including children!), people in poverty, people of different religions and politics as… human. One person commented, “this DVD was made in 2010, right, and it’s only getting worse.”
John kept saying to the group that we could solve all these problems if we just learned to love each other. That is his constant refrain.
I remember musing aloud to John once about how I just could not see how we could solve the problem of homelessness and drug addiction. It was so complex.
John said something like “I don’t have the answer to that either, but I know it starts with seeing the homeless and the addicted as human beings.”
I started thinking about the truth of John’s mantra and yet the lack of practical solutions to implement. I sometimes have trouble even treating those nearest me, my gkids for example, with love and respect…being mindful of their humanity, especially when I deem they have misbehaved.
I wonder…if we collectively knew better, could we, would we do better?
At the Sunday night function, our neighbor, Jon, was there. He’s an impressive guy. An assistant principal at our local middle school. I’ve learned practical stuff from him about how to treat people - including, of course, children with civility, support, fairness, love, and respect AND hold them accountable.
Jon uses a newish approach called “restorative practices.” I had heard this terminology, not in relationship to schools, but to truth and justice approaches in South Africa after apartheid.
The three restorative practices Jon discussed involved 1) jointly setting class agreements, 2) restorative circles, and 3) restorative approaches to broken agreements.
Class agreements involve all students and the teacher envisioning a good class environment. They discuss the behaviors it would require from everyone. After much discussion and debate, no more than four agreements are chosen and posted.
Jon says example agreements are, “We will have fun while letting everyone in our class learn” and “We will wait to talk until others are finished speaking.”
Jon mentioned the importance of having classrooms where students start, at least periodically, with a circle time. These are opportunities to get to know and understand each other better.
I can imagine using questions like: “What have you done or learned that you are proud of,” “When have you been a good friend to someone,” “What are you hoping to learn or what are you hoping to do in the next few years?” These sorts of questions help us connect to each other as real people with fears, wounds, and dreams.
What to do about misbehavior? Jon’s job, the assistant principal, is typically about punitive punishment. Suspensions. Expulsions.
Those approaches simply are not working anymore. As some of us mentioned, there seem to be so many more traumatized and misbehaving kids. Traumatized parents who are raising them does not help.
Expulsions are swift, but not effective for kids’ long-term well-being. They do not help students learn behavior that allows them to stay in school, be better prepared for citizenship, for the workplace, for marriage and parenting, and don’t help them learn how to nourish strong relationships in general which are essential for living the good life.
The restorative practice that Jon uses civilly and compassionately engages broken agreements with five questions. (I am trying to get them solidly into my mind).
What happened? What were you thinking about? Who was impacted? What are you thinking now? How do we make it better?
BTW, when I have remembered to use these questions, I’m amazed at their effectiveness and at my ignorance around what actually happened…
I imagine there is pushback in some quarters (there always is with something new) around restorative practices for various reasons, but what ideas can we take - like collaboratively envisioning a good place where we can all live, learn, and work together.... understanding that we are responsible for creating this place, that our actions make a difference...can these be potential places to start?
Then can we move on to accepting that we are all, every single one of us, human beings… with fears, longings, desires, wounds, strengths? And can we acknowledge that there is indeed truth in what Lessing reminded us several hundred years ago...
it is the quality of people as it is of bees: if we are not very cautious with each other, then we harm both ourselves and others. It cannot be otherwise…
not in China, not in the United States, not in our workplaces, not in our schools, and not in our homes.
“It cannot be otherwise, because mutual love is the major law of our existence.”
How might we better understand that it is a mistake to think that there are times when we can safely address another without love? And find practical ways of showing mutual love to each other in all areas of life - with all people, and collectively journey to The Good Life?
(I am interested in your thoughts. Feel free to email me email@example.com. I know many of you have good ideas to share. LOVE, june)