When I was younger, I was a bit more judgmental than I hope I have become today. Coming to know adolescents who have given up hope because of how they grew up and/or what they did, it is hard to view them as anything other than human. I have seen teens guilty of aggravated assault break down in tears when their parents had to leave after a weekend visit. I have read of those who, after leaving treatment, committed suicide because they had no faith in themselves, no hope in the future to come. I have also seen some of these same people stick up for each other, smile when someone would just stop for a moment to say, "I hope you have a good rest of the day." I may be a teacher, but I think some of my students taught me more about humanity than I ever taught them about human civilizations.
This was especially present on my mind on Friday when a student of mine was helping me after class. I don't recall exactly why I wanted to ask this, but I asked him if any of his other teachers had wished him a good day after class. He said no, they hadn't. This has troubled me for a while. Not because I think the others wished him harm, but rather because of the lost opportunity to wish another human being well. Sometimes, it just takes only a singular moment of good will for others to have peace and serenity kindled within them and perhaps to share that spark with others.
Yet there I go, using that troublesome word: "others." In a school setting, it is difficult enough to convince students to see a common humanity within each of us. It is especially difficult in a larger society, where we store up hurts and grievances, real and feigned alike. How we deal with said grievances tells us a lot about our characters. The most difficult thing to do, what the Christ taught before he sacrificed himself, is to turn the other cheek, to walk another mile if forced to go one for another. Yet when practiced, even in part, it is powerful. I think back to last October and listening to Rep. John Lewis talk about his experiences in the Nashville Sit-Ins of 1960 and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, I was struck by the humbleness in his voice, the forgiveness implicit in the words spoken and written in the graphic novel of his early life that he co-wrote with a staffer. He, along with Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, and others less famous, are people whose lives fascinate me because of their ability to see the best in humanity while the worst of it was in full opposition to them.
Yet many others do not hold to their views. It is understandable; almost impossible not to slip up and vent anger and perhaps ephemeral hatred along the way. If errare humanum est is so true of us when it comes to treating others unfairly, then certainly the second half of Seneca's quote, sed in errare perseverare diabolicum, certainly applies to those of us who persist in "othering" people beyond the moment of hurt and anger. I try to avoid giving in to those negative emotions and am not always successful, but I have discovered that when I do manage to see the good in others and express it, that things do improve.
However, it is very difficult to see people's full humanities online. 140 characters or less or a cute .gif meme rarely display the breadth or depth of a person's soul. Therefore, when the majority of what I encounter these days from some people (not saying that they are "right" or "wrong" to feel this) is anger and frustration, emotions vented without a sense of reconciliation being possible, it troubles me. As I noted above, a lot of times, there are valid justifications for these emotions - after all, there are many people who do hurtful things. But when my professional life often revolves around how to reconcile people in order to do more effective instruction, it is difficult after a while to comprehend all that I read on social media. All of these outrages, whether they be large-scale or just molehills puffed up to be the size of mountains, drain me after a while. There are moments where I'll be sympathetic, but then I find myself wanting to see something else, something better from those outraged, to prove that they are superior to their opponents.
Sometimes, I find something worth considering, but often I just find myself saddened by all of this dirty laundry being aired. Some people end up being demonized, with their worst sides alone being presented for consideration. I am not innocent of that, alas, and it is something that troubles me on occasion. Lately, however, I just find myself more and more numb to all of this, finding it more and more difficult to give a care to any of this. Perhaps the problem is that 1/3 of my Twitter follows are SF fans who devote the majority of their time to focusing on what is wrong with others and their views. Perhaps I just need to spend even less time focusing on what they say and spend more time thinking about what I can share that will provide something of interest, if not joy, to those few who read my thoughts on poetry and (soon) war literature. It is past tend for us to tend to our gardens.