“All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions.” – Leonardo da Vinci
On this, the last day of 2015, I find perspective to be the word featuring most prominently in my mind. As I reflect back upon the year, and I think about my hopes and goals for the next, I find myself thinking more and more about how important perspective really is to each of us, and how much of our miscommunication, misunderstandings, and misinterpretations could be avoided if we all kept this in mind more often.
As a public school teacher, I encounter students from all walks of life. These students might live in the same town, but their experiences are vastly different. One of the reasons I love to read so much is because it affords me the opportunity to understand what it’s like to be someone else. I get to go places I’ve never been, experience relationships and situations I’ve never had, and see how others live from another perspective.
This has given me the ability to see things from others’ perspectives in life and teaching as well and to be more empathetic, open-minded, and understanding than I would have otherwise been. I think that’s one of the things that makes me a good teacher. I don’t expect anyone to conform to my beliefs or opinions, I don’t think that I am RIGHT and they are WRONG. I simply believe that my own set of life experiences has led me to believe what I do, and I accept that to be true of others as well.
This makes some people angry. It doesn’t fit into the black or white, right or wrong dichotomy our society is accustomed to. It is confusing, paradoxical, and some might even say hypocritical. I only know that life and humanity are confusing, paradoxical, and often hypocritical. I just try my best to be a good person and encourage my students to try to do the same. To practice tolerance, peace, and love. This is all I can do in a world full of fear, hate, and violence. I know that we not only need to believe there is good, but we need to BE the good.
I encourage them to think about things from others’ perspectives. To know that even if your beliefs are different, that’s OK. Our disagreements don’t need to be arguments. We don’t need everyone to agree with our opinions, and we certainly don’t have to agree with everybody else. We can listen with the intent to understand, and to try to see things from their perspective. The only exception to this rule is in any human rights violation situation. Human beings deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, and afforded the same rights regardless of where they are from, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status. Period. I can’t and won’t stand for prejudice or intolerance in my own life or in my classroom.
Early in the year my students write poems in the style of George Ella Lyon’s poem “Where I’m From.” Then, they participate in a read-around and share their poems with each other. I participate as well, because I want to model being honest and open with each other in an environment of tolerance, acceptance, and respect. It is a powerful lesson, and one that sets the tone for the year. The message is: I accept who you are, your past, your experiences, your fears, your failures, your regrets. No judgments.
As we begin a new year, I want to remind myself and my students that differences can and should be celebrated, that human rights, love, acceptance, and understanding should remain at the top of our to-do lists in spite of the fact that there is much uncertainty and fear in our world today. As I often do, I look to Atticus Finch for guidance and am reminded of his timeless and wise advice to Scout in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird:
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”