My last post, on John McKnight, has quickly become one of the most read posts we’ve had on Organization Unbound. I’m not sure why. But maybe it has something to do with the how central ‘disdain’ has become to our political and and social change conversations. I suspect that many of us are weary of it. We are fatigued by how much energy it takes to keep casting other people in a hopeless light.
I don’t say this from any moral soapbox. I struggle with it myself every day – the ease with which I can move from disbelief that someone would look at the world so differently than I do to dismissiveness, even contempt. But the feeling I have inside me when I do this is unpleasant and draining. It feels like a sort of laziness that paradoxically takes an enormous amount of effort to maintain, if that makes sense. Looking at other people in an appreciative way, on the other hand, even when they are desperate political or organizational foes, is energizing.
This idea makes me think of “Anna,” a young elementary school teacher I talked to at Southwest Baltimore Charter School (SBCS). At the time, Anna had been at the school for only four months, but she was emphatic when describing how different SBCS was from her previous school. She was feeling engaged, connected, skillful, safe, and supported in ways she had never previously experienced.
Anna told me many stories to illustrate this, but my favorite had to do with how differently teachers at the two schools oriented her toward her new students:
The first time I started meeting with other teachers at my old school, they were looking over my class list saying, “Oh, you are going to hate him, you are going to want to pull your hair out every day because of him, and you are going to want to drink every night because of her,” and that sort of thing.
And when I came here, teachers were looking at the list, and they were saying, “You are going to love her, you are going to love him, and, you know, he might talk your ear off and bother you, but he just has the sweetest personality.” There was just nothing negative there, and even when there was something that wasn’t good, there was still something good said about it in the end. I was excited for the first day of school here, whereas at my other school, I was told every bad thing about every kid on my list, and I was terrified for my first day.
So much of the world is shaped by the long, slow sweep of the choices we make about how to see each other. I think about Anna’s story frequently. And it challenges me to start taking a more delighted, reverential look at all of the various “class lists” in my own life.