Thursday, August 24, 2017

Rage, injustice, change - a rant

      There is so much rage right now in our communities.  And very few of us are immune to it.  It seems to almost drip from the trees: the anger, the fury.  We know that anger is a secondary emotion. That means that anger usually is hiding another feeling, or is the expression of a deeper feeling. Often that feeling is grief, sorrow, hurt.  But currently I think much of the anger we are seeing and experiencing is fear.  
             People are scared and while some of it is not justified (as a wonderful ad I saw recently pointed out, life is not a pie: equal rights for others does not mean fewer rights for you!) much of the fear is very justified: when people are being threatened and in some cases are losing their lives because of their skin color or their religious beliefs or where they were born; when others are trying to control whom they can love; when people are being relegated to "other" and treated as if, by their very presence they are criminals - then anger is justified.  As hatred, prejudice, racism, other "isms" have become acceptable to express once again, they are rearing their ugly heads in more and more overt and scary ways.  As many have pointed out, it is probably not that these feelings have necessarily increased - they were always there.  But there is a growing culture of acceptance and even a condoning of such awful hateful behavior that is allowing it to run in rampant and unexpected ways. The anger is absolutely justified.  When a person's life is threatened, when the lives and well-beings of people we love are threatened, anger is not only righteous but a necessary and correct response.
           That being said, we have to find ways to deal with our anger that do not further escalate the problem.  And therein lies the trick.  Psychological studies show that when we are angry, the judgment parts of our brains actually disengage.  This is a big part of why I cannot see how it will ever be safe for people who tend towards anger to have weapons lying within easy access and reach. If you have that anger within and your brain shuts off in those moments, bad decisions, or decisions stemming solely from the anger rather than from rational thinking, will be made.  We are seeing the reality of this again and again as people in rages go on killing sprees.  
          But even from a place of simple communication and how we choose to talk to one another, allowing our anger to control us is a huge problem.  I want to tell a "lesser" story - it is not about the big confrontations we have seen in our communities and around the country, but I am hoping that it will illustrate my point in a way that maybe will be easier to relate to.  
         As some of you know, I've had problems with my son starting school this fall.  He comes with a series of issues which make life around him challenging for us all.  This beginning of school year was no exception.  He was finally approved for an IEP in January (for those who don't know this lingo, that's an Individual Education Plan - that means the school, the district, the country recognize that he has special needs that greatly affect his ability to do well in school.  As a result, he is assigned some special supports to help him succeed).  But because this was the 4th time I had requested that he be evaluated for an IEP, when he was finally evaluated by an outside group that works with the school, and when the determination was finally made that he did qualify for this designation and the assistance that accompanies it, it meant there were some extra steps and things that have been in place that are not the "norm" for most folk with an IEP.  However, this has caused problems because not everyone has recognized his IEP or has been on the same page with his IEP team about what classes he is supposed to be taking at school.  So he began school with one schedule, which was not right and which, (unfortunately AFTER his orientation, so after he'd already walked around with the first schedule to try to have a grasp on what he would be doing) was challenged and redone. That was before school started, though too close to school for him to really get a handle on where the new schedule put him and at what time. Tuesday, then, was the actual first day of school.  I was very anxious about it because this is his first year in High School, he is going to a different High School from all of his friends, part of his challenges include an inability to handle change (any change) well, and I felt all these changes in themselves were a lot for him to be dealing with. My anxiety was not lessened when I picked up my crying, shaking boy, who was struggling hard to hold it together in front of the other students, and who refused to tell me what was wrong while his sister (whom I had picked up down the street at her school minutes before) was still in the car.  Okay...  
      When we arrived home and I could talk to him on his own he informed me that in the last period of the day the teacher had grilled him unkindly, insisting that he was in the wrong class, demanding to know who had set up this schedule for him, and then promptly sitting at the computer and rearranging his entire schedule.  I asked him to see the new schedule. He told me he did not have a copy of it, but that the teacher had told him he could find it on-line. 
           "Find it how? Find it where on-line?" I asked.  
           "I have no idea!  She just said it would be on-line!"  
           "Well, this isn't going to be a publicly published thing.  Do you have a username, password, website for this kind of thing?"
            "So I'm not understanding how I'm supposed to get this for you."  Anger rising from both of us.
        I called the school.  "Oh, you can come get it first thing in the morning!" I was told.  
        "Can I know what the new schedule is now?"
        "Oh, no.  No one who could help you is in the office now."
         "Can I talk to his school counselor?"
          "She's gone for the day."
         "Can I talk to the special needs teacher?"
         "Also gone for the day."
         "Is there anyone there at all who can help me with this?"
          "No one is at the office now.  You will have to come back in the morning!"
        I called his case manager at the district office.  He, too, was gone for the day.  At this point I became frantic.  My son was having a melt down, was beyond himself.  He did not want to go to school the next day because he didn't know what his schedule would be, he was concerned about them changing it yet a third time, he didn't like being yelled at by a teacher (one who specializes in special needs kids!) whom he didn't know, about a class schedule that he had no part in creating, and he was done with all of this.  Again, for a normal kid, this situation might be challenging. For my son who struggles with small changes - dinner time being slightly later or a day of vacation that most kids would look forward to - this endless confusion around where he was supposed to be and the long list of changes in a life that already cannot handle change was simply too much.  Mother-bear exploded in me, which is not a pretty thing to see.
        I became angry.  Enraged even.  The underlying emotion?  Fear for my son.  Anxiety about his life this year.  A sense of loss for the good teachers and helpers he's had in the past who have aided us and cared for him.  But none of that was at the forefront.  Instead was just blind rage.  Whipping out my computer, I sent a couple of pointed emails.  Well, okay, to be fair to myself, what I actually sent was the following:
          I understand from my son that:
1.  There is a miscommunication about what classes he is supposed to have - in particular whether or not he is supposed to be in Academic Success
2.  As a result his schedule has been completely altered although he does not have a copy of the new schedule and has no idea how to get it.
First, (my son) is supposed to be in  Academic Success according to his IEP.  His IEP was given to him in January through a settlement with the school district and as a result his "case manager" is ___ at the district office.
Second, (my son) is freaking out (which you will not see because he has learned how to control his behavior at school) and is not planning to come to school tomorrow because he does not know his schedule.  Can you please help with this?  My understanding from my son is that his schedule was changed while he was in your class, so I am concerned and confused by this.
Thank you for your time and attention.
             I followed up on all of this the next morning by stationing myself at the school office where I was finally able to get hold of his schedule at least.  Counselor and other helpful people were still not available and apparently wouldn't be before the time when I had to get my daughter to her school, so I made a nuisance of myself leaving more messages for everyone to call me.  The one person who finally did return my call was the vice principal. Yes, it went all the way up the line.  She was not someone I had left messages for, but I think everyone else saw the mother bear and chose to pass the buck to someone with more authority.  The conversation?
         She was defensive. 
         She was cold.  
         She was... well, not unkind.  She explained the situation, but it is clear that we are not on the same page.
         The point?  It is crucial that for my son's sake, his teachers, his counselor, his IEP team, and perhaps especially the vice principle and I are on the same page.  If I want him to succeed at this school, we need to be able to talk, to work through what his challenges are in a reasonable way.  
        But I was angry.  Rightfully so?  Well, it depends on your perspective, I guess.  As far as the school goes, they were simply trying to fix a class situation that wasn't right in the quickest possible way.  From my perspective, a little information given to my son and to myself in a timely way (such as giving him his new schedule as soon as it was made and explaining to both of us why the changes were necessary), especially given my son's special challenges, seems like a reasonable thing to ask for.
      Still, if I had been able to act from a place of calm insistence rather than anger; if I had been able to step back and focus on putting my son at ease rather than trying to get the bureaucracy of school to behave in a humane way; if I had put into practice what I preach and worked harder to be peace in a sea of confusion and pain, then all involved might still be on the same page.  We are not.  It will take work to change those relationships from hostile to collegial.  It will take time for me to no longer be seen as the "problem, difficult parent".  We have started on a bad foot.  And while I will not claim all the blame for that, I do claim my piece of it.  I failed to put into practice what I believe to be important.  I came at this from a combative place.  My son is the one who will suffer most from that choice.  And that is not an acceptable outcome for me.
       To back up, then, from this particular example: we do not help ourselves by choosing to take on our problems from that place of anger.  I need to put the caveat here that I do see major differences between my little problem and the huge issues we are facing. For one thing, supposedly the school and I both have the kid's best interests at heart.  I am aware that in our political situations too many people do not have the best interests of the other in their minds at all. We do not start on the same page, when others are not even seen as human, as deserving of the same rights and privileges that we have, when we forget that we are all one, all interconnected and that what hurts anyone else, hurts me as well.  Many people cannot understand that.  I see this.  I also see that the justified anger is over much bigger issues than just a child's school schedule but is about lives, in some cases whether they will live or die.  I see that.  And I think that anger must be there to motivate us with its energy towards action, towards change.  
        But I also believe deeply that in the larger scheme of things, we escalate conflicts, we divide countries and we plunge ourselves into wars more often because we respond to the injustice and violence with violence in our own actions and our own words. There are so many other choices in how we stand up for injustice. And when we start by failing to listen, when we approach one another with rage and violence, when we let go of our faith mandate to love even our enemies, we escalate rather than confront the problems. I am not saying that we will be able to change everyone.  I also believe there are people who are so steeped in their own evil hating that they cannot be touched.  And I will say it again: there are legitimate, real and important reasons for the anger.  But if we learned to talk to one another, to act and stand up and protest and speak to the injustice in non-violent ways, to strive to cross bridges and to create understanding rather than escalating the polarization, anger, rage and hate; if we learned truly to step into another's shoes and to try, even when we are upset, to approach one another with openness and care, we would surely create a much more beautiful, less conflictive, less violent and less angry world for all of us.  Those are goals we must aim for.  We must.  For the sake of our children...

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Supporting Characters: the real heroes?

     One of my children mentioned last week that she felt that Hermione was the real hero in the Harry Potter series and she stated that if she had written the books, Hermione would have been the main character.  She would have written the stories more from Hermione's perspective. I found myself reflecting on that quite a bit.  For me, the real hero in the Lord of the Rings has always been Sam, not Frodo.  So perhaps this tendency to look at the supporting characters as the real heroes is a genetic thing.  Or perhaps my daughter and I both have this perspective because we are, ourselves, more likely to be supporting characters rather than the heroes in the dramas of life.  Both my daughter and I do a lot of writing.  And when we write from a personal perspective, we are, necessarily, the heroes in our own narratives.  But when we look at the stories of our lives, it is usually other people whose story lines we end up supporting, other people whose lives seem more the center of the particular drama, other people who are the bearers of the rings and "the chosen ones" who take on the villains.  Maybe, then, it is from the perspective of being "supporting characters" that we find ourselves more attracted to and interested in the supporting characters of the books we read.  Maybe.
        And yet... I still think Sam is the bigger hero in the Lord of the Rings.  Without Sam, Frodo would not have succeeded.  Without Sam, Frodo would never have made it.  Without being carried by Sam, Frodo would never be the hero.  And while Frodo carries the burden of the ring, he also wins the glory of being the hero.  Sam does not have that glory.  He has only the burden of carrying Frodo, a much heavier burden in some ways for it includes both Frodo and the ring.  The same could be said of Hermione.  Hermione is the one to plan, to think, to study, to learn.  She is the one who gets them out of the tough situations with the supplies they need, having thought through and planned ahead of time.  She is the one who thinks through the challenges and who keeps going no matter what is confronting her personally.  She is the one with the eyes to see and guide the "hero" of the novels.  And while her work is as intense and as burdensome as Harry's, she does not have her name on the books, she will never have the fame that Harry carries as a result of the challenges he can only face with her support.
          Harry, Frodo, all the other heroes we recognize as heroes: their names are forever emblazoned in our hearts and minds.  But they never would have been able to do what they did without those supporting characters who made their journeys possible.
          I think about this in light of some of the challenges we face as a community, as a country, as a world today.  There are real problems that must be faced and addressed.  And I think many people (I've seen on FB many people) are wondering where the heroes are, where those who will step up and lead us and make things right could be.  But the truth is, the reality is, that it takes all of us to change the world.  It takes every act of love and courage and support of one another to confront the "isms" (racism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism, ableism) of the world, to take on the hate with love, to confront the violence with actions of active peace.  We may not be the heroes.  But we are called to do our part anyway, and to be the supporting characters that will make a difference for those we will identify as heroes.
          When you feel yourself acting as a supporting character in someone else's drama, I hope you can remember that some of us recognize you for the true heroes that you are.  We see that it is with your courage and strength that others can claim the title of "hero."  We see.  We honor you.  We are grateful for all you do.  We do not underestimate your burden and challenges.  Your name may not be up in lights.  But we know you are there.  Thank you for your supporting roles, without which the stories, the healing, the growth would never happen, and could never be told.