Recently, my wife and I were discussing where to send our son to school, closer to where we live or closer to where he goes to pre-school now at my wife’s church. At some point the conversation shifted to a discussion of our son’s personality and social skills. When he’s in his comfort zone, he’s gregarious, outgoing, and sociable. At his Summer camp, though, out of his element, he’s more of a loner.
My wife reflected on her own experience in school. She remembered the in-crowd seemed to have some kind of bond or a secret language and it was hard to break in. Then it hit her, their parents all knew each other. These kids knew each other outside of school. The solution? I would have to step up and initiate social contacts to help smooth the path for our son when he started school. Not the most attractive of tasks. As a general rule, if I can avoid small talk, I will.
A few months into my marriage I wrote my wife a letter of complaint. This wasn’t what I had signed up for. Nothing I had been able to express in person seemed to be getting through, and I thought it a letter at least worth a shot. This way I could shape the message before the conversation became emotionally charged.
When I taught high school English in Los Angeles, one of our annual units was the holocaust through the lens of Elie Wiesel’s searing novella Night.
One of the follow up assignments was for students to research the Eight Stages of Genocide, the first of which is classification. It’s here the violence begins, in our minds, as we label other people.
In so doing, we limit our ability to perceive those around us accurately. We rob them of their particularity, of their humanity. This can become more and more automatic as we age, since we learn to navigate the world through our categories.
Gently devastating poem from poet and friend Cassandra Warren:
Thankful I’m Not Blessed