“I am you and you are me; isn’t that who we’re supposed to be?”
Why do humans take the liberty to judge each other so quickly, so harshly, and most times, so wrongly? Aren’t we all passengers on this ship of life, trying to navigate the torrents and the waves, clinging to each other for comfort and guidance? And, when do we learn to turn on the people around us—to view and berate them with a bitter eye and forked tongue? Who taught us that being so cruel is akin to being normal? Where is the free will to combat the vehement normalcy?
I walk into a classroom filled with sixteen and seventeen year old “kids” every day. I hear their jibes and their jokes. I turn a blind eye because I know “choosing my battles” has become a paramount part of preserving the sanctity of my career. Through literature and history, I strive to help my students make connections and to find relevance to what is important to them. So many of my lessons are fraught with the human condition—what it means to be human, especially when tried and wrongly judged. In a twist of awful irony, I lecture about the detriment of turning a blind eye, of standing up for one’s self and for one’s passions and causes. I pack their brains with ideas and rhetoric, with anecdotes and new vocabulary – with the hope they’ll retain all that we discuss each day. I show them through example how to treat fellow classmates, how to listen with their eyes and how to question with their silence. I hope upon hope that they will get it. I hope upon hope that they will hear me. And yet, I have become the adult who used to be in their shoes. I am certain a teacher once looked at me with hopeful eyes. I am sure I have forgotten all that she said and all the passion she tried to impart, but I am no less grateful (given that the roles have reversed.)
We can teach in the classroom. We can teach in our living rooms. We can teach on the highways and at the grocery stores. We can teach in our sanctuaries, our synagogues, our hospitals, our board rooms, and our restaurants. We can teach through the internet, over the phone, through the ear buds of an i-pod. We can teach until we are all taught out (the “burn out” that many classroom teachers experience,) and still….and still……how does a human learn to not judge? If history and literature and human examples are frauds, if the media cannot be trusted, if our high-profile role models prove to be imperfect humans like the rest of us, how do we truly learn that greatest, most important lesson in life? How do we throw down our guard and our cynicism and open up to the person seated next to us? How do we fight the urge to judge and embrace the discomfort of caring for someone other than ourselves? And how do we forge into the future, torch burning brightly for our children and their children to follow? Is it easier to give into the morass we’ve always regarded as “normal?” Perhaps.