Slice of Life: Putting Yourself in Someone Else’s Shoes

I may have been busy working on lesson plans and other projects (including a BIG one with a deadline), but I haven’t forgotten about this blog. In fact, I have been collecting links and other things that I might want to write about in case I can find a few spare moments.

(I know, I know…make the moments. I hear you. I’m working on it…)

After a couple of weeks of collecting stuff, you start to see a convergence and it’s too much to ignore and you just need to write.

So here goes.

Exhibit 1:

I often tried to think about what others were going through as I did my rounds at the hospital in my long-ago past career as a hospital pharmacy technician. Having gone through my own pain, I knew that the laughter and casual conversation of people who aren’t suffering simply amplified the misery I felt. I tried to keep that in mind as I was out of the pharmacy and among the visitors and patients on the floors and in the lobby and the elevator and the coffee shop.

But hospitals are full of people – some you know, some you don’t. You just never know who is celebrating, who is mourning, who is hanging onto any shred of hope they have left. And that’s not just among the patients and their families. There are hundreds of souls who are there doing the fine work of healing and helping and their joys, sorrows, hopes, and fears trail them the same way as they do for anyone else.

But the more I thought about this, I thought about how I had moved from one crowded place of employment. The average age of the crowd may be much lower, but the joys, sorrows, hopes, and fears still follow them the same as in the hospital.

Except here you don’t always know about what may be weighing someone down or lifting them up.

I need to be just as consciously considering these realities that my students and colleagues carry with them.

Exhibit 2:

I used the above prompt from Luke Neff’s tumblr page in class yesterday. I was blown away by some of the responses that kids decided to share. Some told about what they wished others had taught them so far. Others wrote about how some lessons needed to be learned on our own, that experience is sometimes the best teacher. A few talked about how they wanted to be happy or to be taught how to balance a checkbook or how to live on their own after they graduate.

At the end of the day I had one student talk about learning empathy.

My heart caught and I had to pull up the video to share at least part of it with them.

If only it was so easy to teach children, students, anyone how to put themselves in the shoes of others…

For one, I wouldn’t have to talk about the Thumper Rule again.

But probably more importantly I wouldn’t have to read heartbreaking stories like…

Exhibit 3:

Sexting, Shame and Suicide: A shocking tale of sexual assault in the Digital Age

This story from Rolling Stone outlines yet another tale of a teenage girl who has taken her own life after boys had taken advantage of her at a party while she was drunk — and pictures of what happened were circulated.

I am horrified by these stories on so many levels. Horrified that this kind of behavior happens and that anyone would even remotely consider that it’s okay to do this in the first place. Horrified by the image burned on that mother’s mind for the rest of her life. Horrified that the underground hub of conversation online and via text messages added further insult to injury – and eventually added the last push to a girl whose life was already thrown out of balance.

I couldn’t help but think that if those boys had even thought for one second about how this girl was a real live human being, a girl whom they had known for years, a girl with thoughts and feelings and hopes and dreams and fears of her own – putting themselves in her shoes for just one second – I would hope that they wouldn’t have done it.

But they did.

I couldn’t help but think that if those classmates had even thought for one second before they sent that message or made a “joke” about what had happened about how this girl was carrying the fears and sorrows and (sadly) shame of being the victim of a sexual assault – putting themselves in her shoes for just one second – I would hope that they wouldn’t have said it.

But they did.

How many teachers did she see in those weeks of school who had no idea what was going on? The ones who lectured and checked her assignments and graded her tests and wrote her up for skipping class who had no idea what she was going through. I’m not saying they did anything wrong. But how many never considered that there was anything wrong at all? After all, her mother had no idea either.

Until it was too late.

Statistics suggest that I have had several students who have been the victims of sexual assault. According to the article,

“Rape stats may be no higher than in years past, but the numbers are as shocking as ever. Every two minutes, a sexual assault happens in the U.S., and nearly 50 percent of the victims are under the age of 18, according to Katherine Hull, a spokeswoman for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network: “The demographic of high school- and college-age women is at highest risk for sexual assault.” More than half of the incidents go unreported, advocates say.”

That last sentence bears repeating:

More than half of the incidents go unreported. 

Even of the incidents that are reported, odds are I’ll never know that my students are carrying the weight of such memories.

Or the pain of being bullied.

Or the fear of losing someone close to them.

Or the desperation of not being able to get away from what is breaking their hearts.

The happy stories make their way to me. The sad stories lurk beneath the surface.

Sometimes I am trusted to know them. Sometimes I’m not.

Exhibit 4:

NCAC: School Visits Nixed for Medina, Rowell

These two amazing authors were uninvited to speak to students based on concerns of adults about the books they’d written.

Perhaps because they write about the lives of teenagers. Adolescence is filled with messy realities, mistakes, and less-than-angelic language.

So why do adults want to airbrush it out of the literature their children read?

Shouldn’t we instead use those messy realities, mistakes, and less-than-angelic language as opportunities to connect with our kids? There are big things to discuss here – and moments for us to step into the shoes of others through literature that can open eyes to the choices we each make for ourselves. If I can reflect on my role as an adult who works with teenagers after reading 13 Reasons Why or Speak, then why can’t we encourage that kind of reflection with our kids?

Reading literature and living the lives of others through the words on the page is how we learn empathy.

Forget test scores, college admissions, future earning potential, or even how much better reading will make them at math.

This is the stuff that captial-m Matters.

This is what makes the world a better place.

*For another great viewpoint on the uninvited authors by the authors themselves, check out an interview with Rainbow Rowell here and also Meg Medina’s blog for her response. And go read their books. They’re beautiful and important and absolutely worth reading.

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6 thoughts on “Slice of Life: Putting Yourself in Someone Else’s Shoes

  1. It’s great to have your voice back in the SOLSC. This is such a deep piece. I appreciate your insights and reflections. We never do know what’s really going on for someone else. It takes a special kind of person to ask the right questions, put themselves in someone else’s shoes, or speak up when they risk the ridicule of others.

    BTW: Thanks for sharing this Gaiman quote. It reminded me of a student who did an incredible independent writing project that consisted of her writing off of quotations. (It was mentored after a book called Quotes for Kids, http://amzn.com/0966014804.) She was a gifted writer, but that project was one of the best independent writing projects anyone ever turned in to me (in June, no less).

    • Thanks, Stacey. I’ve missed posting. I was telling my students yesterday (after reading The Dot with them) how powerful it is to share your writing and to get feedback from others – especially others you really respect as writers and friends – and I knew I would be writing today. In fact, I think I told my 8th period that I would be writing this post. Then I found more that I needed to include.
      If you haven’t wandered around Luke Neff’s tumblr of writing prompts, do go check it out. There are all kinds of quotes and other tidbits of inspiration. Besides being great to write from, they’re just plain beautiful.
      There’s much I didn’t get to include in this piece, but I’m exhausted…maybe I’ll revisit it later.

  2. There is so much to reflect on here. The way you kept collecting and collecting things until you had little choice but to write about them alone is interesting to me. The issues you raise are ones of depth and inspire thought.

  3. Wow, these are amazing exhibits and I’m so glad I dipped into your blog. I hope you’ll keep sharing because I want to keep reading. I work at the other end of the spectrum – but some of the parents of my little kiddos are the teens you describe here.

    • I will keep writing. My hope is to make these posts a bit more regular. (If you look back through the archives, you’ll see I have had this hope for a while. Guess it’s time for a plan of action instead of wishing…)

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