NOTE: In this post, I use a lot of CAPS LOCK. You may worry that this is because I am mad at you. It is.
I taught English for a few years. It was legit. Teaching is hard. Go kiss a teacher on the mouth, please. (Ask first. It’s better. Unless you’re very good at reading signals and you know it will be sexy.)
In my English classes, I spent a lot of time teaching students about analyzing writing. It matters. If you don’t think it matters, I want you to know that YOUR THING MATTERS EVEN LESS, OKAY, SHUT UP. I also focused hard on teaching empathy (…get the irony? That’s part of the joke. HILARIOUS). Teaching empathy is weird and difficult and involves a lot of making students walk around outside in winter and forcing them to listen to each other without speaking, plus a lot of reminding them that their youth group leader doesn’t count as “someone really different from them” and that To Kill a Mockingbird absolutely does not suck and that maybe they should go walk around in the snow some more.
I spent a lot of time teaching my students things that I wanted the people around me to learn, which may be the power-trip approach to teaching, but it’s too late to stop me.
Many of my blog posts (if I’m being honest with myself) boil down to some sort of plea for empathy, usually in a “Love is great! …Love each other! …I hate conflict! …Jesus!” kind of a way, but I’ve decided to take the more straightforward approach this time and demand it.
Empathy, I mean.
Hurrah! some of you are cheering. About time someone says what I’ve been thinking for years. Yes, Lauren. Right on.
And I say to you – Oh, shove it.
1. Go, right now, and find something to read that isn’t a shadow of an idea that your brain constantly shoves through a revolving door. Reading things that reinforce what you already believe isn’t enlightening, challenging, or formative. It’s self-satisfying and, I’d argue, potentially dangerous. When human beings aren’t presented with ideas that challenge their own, they tend to settle into the sense that their primary perception of the world is the right one. This, statistically, is impossible. If I shuffle up to the pearly gates of heaven and the “% Correct” meter slides anywhere higher than fifty-three when it gets to my name, I will die a second time. Of shock. Math does not allow for this sort of thing to happen.
2. If you post something to your social media wall/feed/platform/story, you better damn well have considered the reputability of your source. I CANNOT keep telling freshmen in high school to consider bias when YOU PEOPLE* WILL NOT EVEN DO IT YOURSELVES. If the author makes a sweeping generalization and does not back it up with a fact THAT IS SOURCED, I refuse to believe it. On the grounds that the world is full of liars and cheats and Facebook ads that try to sell me adorable Wanderlust watches that do not really exist. Really. Please consider whether or not the author of that article has used examples, or created hyperlinks, or acknowledged the ways in which they benefit personally from convincing you that they are right. Authors get BIG bonus points for acknowledging bias.
*in general, try to avoid the phrase “you people,” unless you are referring to all of humanity
3. If you’re going to post/promote an idea, swear to me that you will always read an article with the opposing viewpoint WHILE ACTIVELY SEEKING SOMETHING YOU CAN LEARN. This applies to everyone. If you are silently cheering me on right now and thinking “SUCK IT, right/left-wing/millennial/Baby-Boomer/privileged/under-privileged loonies!!”, please direct your attention back to point one.
4. I am not against Facebook comments. This may come as a surprise to you. Henceforth, let it be known that I am a wild card. And I believe that technology and social media have gifted us with the ability to share ideas across time and space in a global community and context. AND YOU HAVE TAINTED THE GIFT, YOU MONSTROUS BARBARIANS. If you are going to make a Facebook comment, ninety percent of the time, you should be asking a question. Five percent of the time, you may type, “Tell me more.” One percent of the time, you should be respectfully articulating a differing perspective that LITERALLY ALMOST NO ONE ELSE COULD HAVE POSSIBLY CONTRIBUTED WITHOUT YOU. The other four percent of the time should be dedicated to only the cleverest of trolling, because that is straight hilarious.
5. I do not condone pasting a link to this piece of writing in a Facebook comment section. That is passive aggressive and shame on you. It goes against the very nature of this piece to use it as a weapon. Boooooooo.
As a human race, we have a basic calling toward reconciliation. In times of desperation, destruction, and division, the question at the forefront of our minds should be, “How can I/we reconcile myself/ourselves with my/our fellow human beings to the farthest reaches of my/our ability?” True reconciliation calls for extreme measures. Empathy is extreme. Real empathy will take us to the farthest reaches of human capacity.
This amount of effort will be excruciating. And reconciliation must go hand in hand with justice. I deeply believe that in the case of my father’s (hypothetical) murder, I should visit the cell of his murderer and hammer myself to the smallest splinter of human connection I can find within that person’s soul. I do not know if I could ever bring myself to that point. And, as my husband pointed out, I cannot be sure that the person would not turn around and say, “Screw you. I don’t regret what I did. I’d do it again. And I’d kill you if I could.” But I still hold that true love advances with steady dignity as it wipes the spit from its eyes. And I don’t know if I can ask that of humanity. And I don’t know if I can even do it myself.
But I do think that it’s right. And I think that if we believe that true, life-splintering empathy is right, we have to decide if we’re okay with scrolling past it.
Lauren (Boersma) Harris (’13) is a spontaneous, idealistic, independent, fierce, over-thinking, damaged, adventurous, ordinary megalomaniac with a healthy sense of self-worth and a high word count. She has been a teacher both indoors and outdoors; she loves improvised comedy, backpacking, and writing, even when it’s required.