This is #2 in a participatory series. From time to time, I will blog with the heading “The Assignment”. I will respond to one of 300 Writing Prompts*; you can read the prompt and my post here and then decide whether or not you want to post your own response to the prompt. You can reply in the comments on WordPress or in the comments on Facebook where I typically share blog posts.
The Prompt: “Have you ever spoken up when you saw something going on that was wrong? Were you scared? What ended up happening?”
Hahahahahahahahaha. Have I ever spoken up when I saw something going on that was wrong? That’s a good one! 1) I’m a teacher and former school administrator, 2) I’m a parent, 3) I’m a bit of a know-it-all. Yes, Yes. I have often spoken up when I saw something going on that was wrong.
I might even say I am compelled to speak up when I see something going on that is wrong. It can be a problem, actually. Particularly if I get confused about the difference between “what is wrong” and “what I don’t agree with”. Sometimes the distinction between these two categories is pretty clear; sometimes it’s rather subtle.
For example, the other day I watched an eleven year old dump about a quarter cup of Red Hot into a baggie full of Doritos. I used all the restraint I could muster to hold myself to “Wow! That’s a lot of hot sauce,” rather than saying “Dude, what’s the matter with you? No one needs that much hot sauce!” This was an instance of “what I don’t agree with” rather than one of “what is wrong”. Although I myself am not a fan of hot sauce, this kid did nothing “wrong”.
On the other hand, if I overhear one teenager cruelly making fun of another teenager, I will most definitely step in and correct the first teenager. I am not a fan of bullying in any form. It’s unnecessary. And cruel. And wrong.
Not all issues are so clear cut. Sometimes I can’t immediately distinguish between what is simply a matter of preference and something that is most certainly wrong. I once saw a college student walking to class barefoot. We chatted for a minute, and I did ask, “Where are your shoes?” She responded, “I really don’t like shoes.” Hm. Ok, I thought, I wouldn’t go into a public place with no shoes, but I guess you would. Later I learned from my Dean of Students husband that students are not allowed to go into buildings without shoes — it’s a health code issue. Being barefoot in school is wrong. So noted.
Further muddling the topic are situations that are “not under my jurisdiction”. I have had more than one boss tell me, “that’s not your problem.” Hmph. I will admit here to reluctantly walking away sputtering under my breath on such occasions. I have a hard time believing it’s not my problem if 1) it’s wrong and 2) I’ve seen it.
You can imagine my struggle with living in a world that is full of “wrong”. I watch the news and say to the TV from my couch, “What? You’ve gotta be kidding me!” Last weekend during a basketball game between the University of Michigan and Michigan State, I yelled, “why do you keep throwing the same shot? You’ve missed it all the other times, why will this time be different?” Driving on the highway, I reprimand other drivers, “Really? You’re gonna cut him off like that?”
Am I scared to speak up? No. My response when I see the wrongs of others is reflexive. I am not afraid of confrontation. The fear comes in when I realize that I myself have been “wrong”. And, let’s be honest, this happens regularly. Someone with such a compulsion to call out “wrong” will certainly see her own flaws.
Last week I was sitting in my therapist’s office recalling a scenario from my holiday experience with my family. I told her that I was lying in bed one night almost frantic that I hadn’t created the “right” Christmas. Maybe I should’ve done something different — offered more activities, participated in more conversations, created more ‘magical moments’. What if I had done everything wrong and had missed some opportunities?
My therapist said to me, “your expectations of yourself are so high, I can’t even see them.” Indeed. I really don’t want to get it wrong, especially when it comes to my family. But here’s the thing. I’m going to get it wrong.
After my last blog post wherein I discussed my realization that I am sometimes driven by prejudice, a friend made a relevant and kind comment on Facebook. I responded, “thanks for the grace,” and she replied, “We all need grace, but do you know who we need it from the most? Ourselves.”
It’s true. While I am quick to call out wrong when I see it, I am also quite dedicated to offering others fresh chances. The student who I dressed down for picking on a peer might be forgiven and encouraged by me within a few moments. My Spartans, who kept missing shots against the Wolverines, still have my undying support and devotion. The kiddo who downed that whole baggie of dripping Doritos received high fives from me moments later when he read some difficult words in his lesson. I don’t let anyone else’s behavior determine my love for them because I know their actions do not define them.
However, I am not as quick to offer that same grace to myself. I tend to revisit my sins and pile them up into the shape of my identity. My failure to cover a learning objective makes me an ineffective teacher. My inability to offer an appropriate emotional response makes me a bad mother. My tendency to share my personal stories makes me a narcissist.
I get so carried away with “seeing” all the “wrong” in my life that I become paralyzed. I can’t seem to offer myself the same grace that I would be more than willing to offer a friend or even a stranger.
I don’t think I’m alone.
So here’s to calling out what’s wrong, to being defenders of the those who can’t defend themselves, and to being willing to look in the mirror and acknowledge that I don’t get it all right myself. And in the same breath, here’s to offering forgiveness, to holding out hope, and to offering grace to the people in our paths and to ourselves.
I think we can give that a try, can’t we?
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
*300 Writing Prompts. Picadilly, 2017.