Sunday, October 2, 2011


"First They Came for the Jews"
By Pastor Niemoller

First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.

I have this crazy idea that I am morally and ethically responsible for other people. This doesn't mean I always get it right or I'm spending all of my extra time serving those less fortunate than myself. I do my balanced best to take care of other people, to see them, to hear them, to--at the very least--look them in the eyes and smile.

This means that I turn off the water when I'm brushing my teeth or washing my hands.
This means that I bring re-usable grocery bags to the farmer's market.
This means that I buy local and organic when possible.
This means that I eat as close to the ground as possible, because the resources (grain, water) used to raise one cow for a hamburger could feed an entire community.
This means that I take part in conversations about cultures and world views that are different from mine.
This means that I am intentional about not being so wasteful.
This means that I take time to be grateful for the bounty that I have.
This means that I invest in people and ideas.
This means that I read about what men have to say about feminism.
This means that I listen open-heartedly to my more conservative friends.

I believe that we all live downstream.
But we try really hard to act like we don't.

I was reminded of these beliefs because on Monday I am starting a unit in my Pop Culture class on gender. When I mentioned the upcoming unit to the class last week, half a dozen guys simultaneously crossed their arms, leaned back in their chairs, and rolled their eyes. What is our Linkdiscomfort with this topic? Why have conversations about gender turned into a list of things that men are losing and women are stealing from them? How can I help them see their comfy position on this totem pole called "life"?

Why is that Mexican-Americans and women in the Congo can tell you how unfair and unethical their situation is, but the folks above them seem completely oblivious to it and even resentful to these people even wanting to have the conversation?

I think it's because they (I) don't have to.

I can't tell you which doors and exits at my school have ramps and handicapped access, because I don't have to.
I can't tell you where the elevators are located, because I don't have to. I can use the stairs.
I don't consider the difficulties of being in a wheelchair, because I. don't. have. to.

I think it's the same with race and gender and sexual-orientation. If we do not belong to a population of people who have less rights and privileges, we are likely to be ignorant to their situation and defensive when they voice their needs. I imagine we become defensive because it feels like we are being attacked or exposed. We aren't accustomed to being uncomfortable or unprivileged.

This is why I'm nervous about this unit on gender. I'm afraid that the boys won't hear what I'm trying to say: that we all need to be aware of those we can lend a hand to. They don't want to be told or reminded that they sit pretty comfortably at the top of the hierarchical totem pole of society, simply because they were born male.

I'm starting the unit with 2-3 days on the art of listening. We're going to practice paraphrasing. We're going to learn about our typical responses to critical information and how to respond non-defensively. I also want to start by just saying up front, "I'm nervous to be talking about gender..." and go from there. Honesty is scary, but worth it.

If I've learned anything about listening and openness in the last year it's this: I can't always convince those above me to give a damn, but I can choose to give a damn about those below me. I can lend a hand. And I will.


Emily Star said...

Practicing listening, paraphrasing--heather you're an awesome teacher! This whole thing made me think. Thanks.