Thursday, October 13, 2011

Throwing Pencils

This week I asked my 9th graders about their greatest strengths.
I believe authenticity to be one of my greatest strengths.

Since I can't be perfect.
Since I'll never look like her.
Be like him.
Have this all figured out.
I might as well just be open about it because fighting is fruitless and I've made more friends by being authentic than I ever did by keeping it all inside.

I put this belief into practice in a big way on Wednesday by sharing my story with my Pop Culture class. Now I realize that I wrote a book about a lot of my "dirt." People can read my story on the internet. This blog is public. I've spoken in front of a few thousand people and felt confident doing so. But there's something different about speaking to thirty public high school students. No context. No background. The "teacher" title. And they are only a few years younger than me. I see every day that there's a huge-mongous difference between 17 and 23. And I'm okay with that. You couldn't pay me to step back into high school.

As we've been studying gender and culture in relation to popular culture, I sensed myself losing half of the audience. I felt them losing interest in the fact that every hour of every day 49 women are raped in the Congo, at least 1 Indian woman is doused in kerosene and set on fire for an inadequate dowry, women are beaten for being women, and others sold into sex slavery. We've got problems and when some of the students stated their belief that it wasn't really worth talking about because they couldn't do anything anyway, I just had to say something.

The next day, I told them that I was human.
I told them that I was nervous to share my story because I didn't want to preach at anyone.
I told them that, as they may have noticed, I am intensely passionate about gender equality for several reason: being taught at a young age to fear men, being sexually harassed in middle school, battling anorexia and bulimia, and being sexually assaulted in Cambodia.

I told them I believe I do have an ethical and moral responsibility to take care of other people, even people on the other side of the world,
even people I've never met,
even people I don't like.

I told them of my worries that if I don't give a damn about a hurting world, I'm worried that no one will. Yes, I feel responsible. Yes, I want to help.

I shared. They listened.
They didn't throw pencils at me.
They didn't roll their eyes.
I told them that if ever I began foaming at the mouth and turning red at this difficult topic of gender, they could say, "Okay, Ms. Bo, tone it down. It's going to be okay." But I was able to share why that just might happen. And they seemed to understand.

After class, K came up to me, tears in her eyes. She quickly said "thank you" and walked away.

I've never regretted telling an honest story. Even when the risks of transparency seem to far outweigh the benefits, authenticity has always been worth it. Every time.