“You seriously think stuff like this should be ignored? I understand that hatred like this will never go extinct, but should it be allowed to go unchecked and unchallenged?”

Screen Shot 2013-06-16 at 8.01.49 AMWe were discussing hatred and discrimination–hateful comments on a discussion board. My friend spends significant time trying to convince hateful people to be less hateful. I commend him. What happens, though, is he just gets mad.

I tell him to stop. It’s not productive. There isn’t one person there who wants to be changed. It’s depressing. It brings him down. What starts as righteous indignation ends in battle fatigue, with residual vestiges of mad–it’s inevitable. I’d be mad, too. Discrimination doesn’t sit well with me.

But I’m a hypocrite–I did the same thing trying to solve the problems of public education. The nature of the beast is that I read a lot of books, blogs, and news material. I was commenting on a reform blog. It was a national blog, a person you all know. Someone that, until that moment, I venerated–a “champion” of reform. Someone who calls it like it is.

I used the word “scholars.” The hyenas descended.

“What, are you teaching, college? Because if you’re not, they’re not scholars.” Guess you don’t give your kids much credit.

“Why would you say that, you pretentious snob?” Because words matter. Read some NLP–basic science. Students tell me they like that I “treat them like real people and give them advanced stuff.” That’s the definition of scholarship. Study. Nothing more. 

“Do you even have a university degree?” A couple and then some. Haven’t even finished paying for them yet because I hacked my corporate salary in half to save the world from ignorance and want.

Last night, I was at a party talking to an alum, an electrician. He’s making a killing. I’m the dumb one here…

“I bet you’re some charter school freak who makes her kids march lock step and teaches to standardized tests all year.” That statement–so riddled with contradictions, I can’t even  process it. 

This went on and on. I answered each angry comment like a champ, hoping to convince people they should see the possibilities in their students. All I really did was get smacked around a lot.

I considered this a rite of passage in being somewhat public. I wasn’t just some teacher locked in a room anymore, I got smacked around by XXX herself!

“Disengage,” said my newish friend James (plug: you can read his latest book here). He used to write about stocks.  I’d rediscovered him writing about the meaning of life. Stocks are nice, but since I really can’t do much with them at this stage of my poverty, thanks be to teaching, I sort of like the meaning of life more–better odds at achieving enlightenment.

“Disengage? These are my people. The people on MY side!” I want to make education perfect. What he said next changed everything. It’s the truth:

“You have no people. You have yourself. They are not on your side. Nobody is on your side but you. All these people–people like that–want to do is hear themselves. They want to argue and spread hate. It’s what they do. It brings them joy. I’m paraphrasing.  “Disengage. Do not participate in those threads. Don’t even read them. Do not answer hateful comments on your blog. Walk away.”

Every once in a while someone says something that permeates the dense outer layer of my skull and changes everything. This was one of those times. Every moment I spend in a silly battle over things I can never hope to change is a moment I am not bringing vision to a student. It’s tough to recognize. I sat down. I prioritized…two piles, “Productive,” and “Not Productive.” I separated people, activities, and obligations into those piles. The “not productive” pile? Gone. Mostly. I focus on a few things–areas where I can make an impact. It feels good. “Productive.”

Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s Hagakure, a 1716 samurai handbook and one of my favorite works, said the following, “Among one’s affairs there should not be more than two or three matters of what one could call great concern.” More than that, “not productive.”

“Not productive.” This advice is the same, whether it comes from a living friend or a dead samurai. They’re both right.

Do I seriously think hate should be unchecked and ignored? Never. I spend a great deal of  time with students. Occasionally, I battle those things. The only thing to do is replace them with something. I choose vision.  The greatest gift I can give students–and myself–is the ability to say “not productive” to negativity, urging them to surround themselves with visionary thinking.

It works. And it surpasses any curriculum I could ever write.

[image: bookofzen.com]


10 thoughts on “Disengage

    • Thank you for this comment…it’s true. I learn a lot by watching some amazing people who took the fall before me and were kind enough to give their advice.

  1. I think you nicely enunciated what is so lacking in public discourse, whether it be politics or forums – a lack of positive vision. There are always people who can point out everything wrong in the world, but fewer with the imagination to have a vision of improvement and change.

  2. Truth, here. Much truth. I occasionally feel compelled to confront verbal violence when I encounter it. But I do so in a disengaged way, I believe. As the Analects so correctly pointed out: a moral society begins with “rectification of names” — which I would like to translate, here, as “calling a spade a spade.” I don’t have to engage in active debate to say very clearly and unequivocally, “that is racist speech. I choose to no longer participate in this conversation with you.” Or, “I find your manner of speaking unprofessional and personally hurtful. I choose to no longer participate in this conversation with you.” Non-violent passive resistance activists use this technique all the time. Name the unacceptable behaviour. Refuse to be drawn into a debate about whether or not the behaviour is acceptable (or what the speaker REALLY was trying to say). Calling a spade a spade publicly is a powerful gesture that names verbal abuse for what it is, and enables the silent majority to identify (and perhaps resist) the fear that keeps them silent.

    My 25 cents to a 25 dollar post.

    • You know, overt hatred…I always say something. But what I have learned to do is to avoid places where it lies–forums, certain social situations where I can predict people with values in that area that I can’t respect, certain broadcasts. That, I can do.

  3. Casey,

    I think your friend’s way is the healthiest.

    However, this is my year on walk-about. I sat through several years of listening to hateful rhetoric. People would say things to me that if they knew me, they would be embarrassed to say in my presence. I decided I would spend a year trying to be brave (not that remaining quiet isn’t brave but is often downright wise) and call out when I saw wanton disregard for the truth and our fellow man. At the very least, I think by the end of the year I’ll know who really likes me for me :).

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