Image courtesy of Brian Smithson
Normally I have a short little story to start off my post, but I am afraid I am at a loss for words on this one. Everything I come up with is either too trite or doesn’t fit the scope of the issue. I guess the only thing I can do is to jump right in.
I have been watching with interest and sadness the events unfolding in Israel and Gaza along with Russia and Ukraine. Go back twenty years ago or more and most of the conversation regarding these events would be limited to what we received from the media and then discussed with our friends and family. With the advent of social media, especially Twitter, the information flows from various sources and our conversation has grown to include total strangers from all over the world. What is amazing to me is how quickly judgements have been made regarding which ‘side’ to choose in either conflict. For some it seems, these decisions are made with limited information which has not been verified. This is then propagated through retweets and reposts while the details are still scarce. It may be that that photo, video, or quote might be true, but in this age desperately in need of patience, there is a sore lack of it.
My issue is with the whole idea of choosing sides in a conflict. It is as if people feel that they must support one side or another: evil versus good, small versus large, oppressor versus oppressed. The problem lies in that most situations do not have a clear cut right and wrong. We are unable to distinguish between actions and actors. In the conflicts mentioned above, either side likely have active participants who have done things that we would consider unacceptable. We often fail to see that through the lens we have so rapidly put on. My heart breaks for those on either side of the conflict who have lost loved ones or live in fear of what will come next. I am angered by people who feel the need to push their agenda at such a high cost. In certain situations, those who are oppressed do need the support of others to gain a voice. The problem again lies in what we call ‘truth’. Political rhetoric from leaders and supporters can pull people in while pushing others away. When I read a politically charged headline or quote, alarm bells start ringing in my head. I feel I am being ‘taken for a ride’ and I want to get off. When I read someone else sharing or making these statements, I begin to question their motives and their ability to be critical. Sometimes, I wonder how they could be so gullible when things are so clearly biased. Yes, some or even possibly all of the information may be true, but if a student wrote that in an essay for me, I would circle it and warn them about maintaining academic integrity.
This is not meant to be a post about politics or news, but about the skill that is needed to think critically and to avoid biased rhetoric for fear that you may lose your audience. Balance. It is all about balance and seeking out the truth. Truth will be elusive and may be obfuscated by the information being dispensed by various parties. Also, what seems clear at the moment may become increasingly obscured as time goes on.
This happens in our own classrooms. We see things through our own lenses, be it cultural, political, or some other form. When students from another country are caught plagiarizing, our immediate response is from our understanding of the situation. We need to take the time to seek out the truth before passing judgement. What about when a student cheats on an exam or is constantly late for class? What about our situations with our employers or colleagues? Do we take the time to find out where they are coming from before forming opinions? Sometimes I feel people are too afraid to seek out the truth. They feel comfortable with their situation, even if it is painful.
Today I was watching an episode of Dragon’s Den while I did some other work. I haven’t really watched the show that much so I wasn’t entirely sure of all of the rules and procedures. A couple came on the show who were on the edge of personal financial collapse. They were unable to obtain the funding they needed from the investors. Everyone there could sense the desperation from these two and wanted to help them, but couldn’t see how this would be a good investment. I really felt for this family who had poured their heart and money into this endeavor, but were likely going to lose it all. I don’t know these people and I will probably never see them again. If I hadn’t watched the show, I wouldn’t have felt this sadness. Ignorance is bliss. So why do people engage with others if we might feel pain or sorrow? Why become involved in a situation if it can become so complicated? I believe most people want to be helpful and do what is right but are often held back by something. It could be their past, it could be their beliefs, or it could that they simply don’t know what to do. By becoming an active participant, we learn something about ourselves as we grow and mature into the person we want to be and want others to be.
There has been a good deal of talk lately about evidence based teaching, as there should be. We need to be actively questioning, seeking out way in which to improve. It may expose our weaknesses and might be painful, but it helps us mature as professionals and become the teacher we want and need to become.
Stop trying to choose sides. We can be far more effective when we seek out the whole truth instead.