After this weekend’s shooting in AZ, I can’t help but think about what my role is in addressing what is going on in our country. While political finger pointing and debates about rhetoric whirl around us, I stand stunned, saddened, and confused. As an educated adult, and now mother of a little boy, I feel compelled to DO something.
Teachers – charged with the important societal task of educating and grooming those who will receive our country as we move forward- have tremendous power and influence. Everything you do in front of students is noticed – your mannerisms, your clothes, your speech. I think, though, one of the most powerful emotions we can share with our students is our love for them. I quote a colleague: “We never tell them enough how precious they really are to us.”
And the students are – so precious to us. As much as we feel compelled to protect them and guide their exposure to difficult situations, they grow to become members of society, and they sometimes jump fully into the rushing waters of discourse on all subject matters. They will agree and disagree, they will argue, they will believe. They will vote. They will also be responsible for themselves, and can choose to be focused on the rights of an individual, the rights of a society, or a balance between the two. They will be hurt – sometimes with words and sometimes with physical violence. Some of them will have been hurt long before jumping into adulthood, and will carry those scars with them as they interact daily with the world around them. It may be that after our students leave us, they are compelled to commit acts of injustice on any number of levels. We can’t possibly control that. We can, however, model simple civil decency and kindness, and hope that some of it sticks.
Words are powerful. Actions are powerful. What are we modeling for our students, when some in our society choose to identify elections with battlefields, politicians with terrorists and disagreement with bloodshed? As the wounded in this weekend’s shooting continue to recover, and those who lost loved ones join the community of others who have been affected by acts of violence, we need to reflect on the place of civility and love in our society. How are they demonstrated? How is their power utilized? How are conflicts handled, and then resolved?
Peace is a concept that needs to be comfortable, lauded, and embraced. Rhetoric and actions to the contrary are tempting and powerful. Disagreements and conflict are interesting aspects of human nature, but we need to work on making peace sexier than violence. Our students need us to do that for them. We need to help them understand that. Would that have prevented this weekend’s tragedy? Maybe not, but we can try to tame the media forces and mouthpieces of our country into a more civilized discourse than one that ends in the loss of life.
We are better than that. Our students are better than that. Our country is better than that.