January 26, 2012 § 6 Comments
I used to teach 8th grade. Voluntarily. Middle school was a perfect match for me – the kids were old enough to get my humor and young enough to appreciate my goofiness. Also, it confirmed my friends’ fear I was insane. I taught Civics, which was great for flexibility and creativity in teaching. The kids had no standardized tests at that age in that subject, so I was basically able to assign whatever I felt best would get the information across. I was DRUNK WITH POWER, I tell you. This explains the following assignment I gave my poor 8th-graders towards the end of my 1st year teaching.
I was in my early twenties, and therefore bold. It was a Friday in June. I did not normally assign homework over the weekend, but this time was different. I was going up to NY to see my parents that weekend, but first, I was getting my haircut that afternoon. Reeeeeallllly short. I had hair that went several inches below my shoulders, and when I came back on Monday, I knew it would be buzzed in the back and sides, and kinda long on top. So, in case it didn’t work out so well for me, I gave them homework. To make me feel better if I needed cheering up. Here was the assignment:
“When you see me on Monday, I will have very short hair. Your homework is to come up with something nice to say to me about my hair, even if you don’t like the way it looks. You will be graded on the following criteria:
1. the elaborateness of the compliment, and
2. the sincerity with which it is delivered. Even if you don’t like the way it looks.”
I got my haircut, and the huz loved it. He thought it looked cool. He couldn’t stop running his hand up and down over the buzzed part on the back. I understood…isn’t that what you want to do to anyone you see who just got a buzz cut? Run your hands all over their heads? Come to think of it, maybe I should have gotten it buzzed all over. Anyhow, we drove to NY, and when my dad opened the door, he took one look at me and said, “Well, I always wanted a son.” (He was KIDDING, people, I promise!!! But now you might gather from whence my sarcastic streak comes…) Unfortunately, I hadn’t given my DAD that homework assignment, so I had to wait for Monday to hear from my students.
Let me tell you. Those 8th-graders really came through for me. Except for one kid. We’d clashed all year, but we were starting to get along. He wanted to go to the rest room. When I pointed out, feeling insulted, that he hadn’t complimented me on my hair, he finally gave in with a heart-warming, “Fine! It looks very nice! Now, can I please go to the bathroom???” Lucky for him, I was grading that particular assignment on a curve.
So, friends, in what may be the worst-written segue in blogging history, this brings us to the political process. What’s this got to do with politics, you ask? I’m talking about 8th-graders, and you can’t see the connection to politics??? Do I have to spell EVERYTHING out? Sigh.
I would like to give all politicians the same assignment I gave my 8th-graders. Not that they all have to say something nice about my hair, silly, that would be too easy! If I were moderating the debates, though, I’d make it mandatory for each candidate to say something positive about the other candidate. Elaborateness wouldn’t be required, but sincerity would (that’s something they need to be good at anyway, right? Great practice!) The depth of the compliment should be part of the grade as well. And it wouldn’t be allowed to be a backhanded compliment, either. Like, “You really have great comic timing – like when you fell down the steps of Air Force One? Hilarious!!!” It would have to be real. Examples:
Obama: Newt, I really admire your intellect. You’re a world class historian, and your novel about Gettysburg was beautifully written.
Gingrich: Barrie, I have a lot of respect for the work you did as a community organizer, and I can’t help but be really impressed that Bin Laden was captured on your watch.
THEN they could tear into each other. But I get so very tired and disgusted at the political process as it now functions. Showing respect for one another apparently doesn’t garner any votes. Respectfully disagreeing and in-depth discussion doesn’t make for good TV. I know these things are true. Also true, however, is that voter disgust is high and trust levels are low. Everyone wants the culture in DC to improve, and no one knows how to achieve that.
Until now! I mean, seriously!!! They should really try the compliment thing! It’s like smiling and exercise…even if you didn’t feel like doing it to begin with, it almost always feels good when you’ve done it. And somehow, the rest of the day just seems to go better.
Now, this wouldn’t work for all politicians. Not all of them have redeeming qualities on which to build a respectful repartee´.
(Hindenburg: Adolf, I really admire your fashion sensibilities and your painting has shown great improvement in the last few years!)
But, really – can’t we just try it?
January 24, 2012 § Leave a comment
Part Eight (and last for a while) of I-Don’t-Know-How-Many in a series of posts inspired by “Miss Representation.” If you haven’t seen the trailer for this movie, and you have 8 minutes, please watch it here now.
Remember Donkey in “Shrek?” Now, I don’t often look for wisdom out of the mouths of donkeys (insert liberal Democrat joke here…) but when he’s singing a Bette Midler song, I tend to take notice. There’s a theory that’s been bouncing around in my mind for the last year or so, and I can’t seem to separate it from the image of happy Donkey singing “Ya Got to Have Friends” to Shrek. Animated references aside, it seems appropriate to give voice to this theory in the blog series inspired by “Miss Representation.” Yet, it’s a tricky message because I imagine it will be easy to misinterpret – and here it is anyway.
Minorities need friends in the majority. I believe this applies to many facets of life, but generally, I am referring to the advancement basic human rights. Overthrowing tyranny and abuse. Moving civilization forward. You know – the little things.
I realize I’m painting with very broad strokes here, but consider history. It’s hard to find an instance where an oppressed minority group’s advancement towards equality was not helped along by someone (or many) in the majority. Emancipation. Desegregation. Women’s Suffrage. Establishment of Israel. Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Were the minorities and/or oppressed in these cases irrelevant or powerless in bringing the advancements to fruition? Of course not – of COURSE not. Au contraire. But neither were they alone or singular in their efforts. Somehow – somewhere along the way, in each of the cases mentioned above – their arguments, stories, actions, found a receptive heart and sympathetic ear of people in the majority. And those in the majority whose eyes had been opened worked on behalf of those who had been wronged. Then there was progress.
It’s very natural, when you’re a member of a group that’s been wronged to surround yourself with others like you, and assert your strength and independence as a group. Cathartic. Therapeutic. Necessary. And soooo easy to cross over to the “Stick it to the Man” and “Rage against the Machine” mentality. We emphasize the “us vs. them” dynamic. We are able to turn any problem adversarial. (The more twisted ones actually get off on doing that, and shame on them.) I can’t think of a greater impediment to progress.
We may feel we can go it alone – we don’t need those bastards in the majority. But we’d be wrong. If we don’t need them now, we’ll need them down the line, and we’ll be happy to have a friend or two on the other side. This is my argument against isolation, people. For all the flaws in our government, the beauty of its infuriating design is that one side can hardly get anything done without the other. For all the flaws in our society, the brilliance of its survival lies in our ability to see value in other points of view.
Forgive the inelegance of the argument (and my beating a dead horse,) but blacks needed whites to defeat Jim Crow. Jews needed gentiles to establish Israel. Gays and lesbians need straight people to be on their side and advance their cause. The first female Justice to the U.S. Supreme Court was appointed by a man. Everyone needs friends on the other side of the aisle, whether it’s the aisle of Congress or the aisle separating men and women in an orthodox synagogue.
I finally watched “Miss Representation” in its entirety. I’m trying to get it screened in Maryland. Baltimore’s mayor (Stephanie Rawlings-Blake) is female, the longest-serving female U.S. Senator (Barbara Mikulski) is from Maryland, yet our state hasn’t yet had a screening. How great would it be to fill a theater with people to watch this film? Yet, the first question on my mind is, “How many men can we get to see this? How many boys?” I desparately want women and girls to see this, too – to stoke the fires in their bellies and make them roar. To impress upon them how dangerous complacency is and how fragile our hold on equality. But I also want the men there. Progress won’t happen without them.
Because believe me. When a twenty-something-year-old waiter feels comfortable addressing my mother as “dear,” but my father as “sir,” it is more obvious than ever that we have a loooooong way to go and a LOT of work to do.