Thursday, November 10, 2016

Nora Values and the Election

My remarks to the Nora School community on the morning of November 9, 2016

The sadness that many of you feel today is, I suspect, not about tax policy, or climate change, or even immigration policy, but rather about the apparent retreat in parts of our society of respect, civility, kindness, and tolerance. Please keep in mind, however, that this represents only parts of our society, not all of it, and not even a majority. I know that I worry for those of my friends and family who don’t look like me, have my privilege, or my way of relating to the world as a middle-aged heterosexual white man with a decent health care plan. 

Whatever the next four years may bring, you have it within your power to create your own community, the community you want around you... one that is kind, civil, caring, tolerant, and just. Raise the bar on yourself, your friends, your family, and the stranger you run into on the street in order to spread ripples of kindness, civility, and justice. You may not be able to change the wider culture in a day, but you can do your part to change it over a lifetime. It’s no longer up to someone else to do this for us, we must do it ourselves. This is not a time for cynicism, it’s a time to challenge ourselves to do better.

Marcia sent me an article this morning from Ali Michael, Ph.D,  the Director of K-12 Consulting and Professional Development at the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education at the University of Pennsylvania. I’ve paraphrased her words and ideas in part to reiterate the values that we stand for at The Nora School.

Decide that you will fight bigotry. We will not tolerate bigotry at Nora. We will stand by our Muslim families, our same-sex parent families, our gay students, our Black families, our female students, our Hispanic families, our disabled students, our immigrant families, our trans students. We'll do all we can to keep others from hurting or threatening or demeaning anyone in our community. And we have to watch ourselves, to be certain that our own words and actions don't hurt, threaten, or demean, even if inadvertently.  

Silence is dangerous, you must learn how to speak up when something is wrong. You must learn how to love one another, how to understand one another, how to solve conflicts peacefully, how to live with diverse and conflicting ideas, and work on gaining the skills to live in a world that often doesn’t know how to do this.

You must be responsible members of a civic society. Posting on Facebook is not enough. Learn how to engage in discussion, not for the sake of winning but for the sake of understanding and being understood. Learn how to check facts, to evaluate news sources, to question assumptions, to see your own biases, to take feedback, and to challenge one another. Learn how to disagree with love and respect. These skills will be priceless in the coming months and years as we work to build a society that protects the rights of all people.

Remember that not everyone who voted for Trump did so because they believe the bigoted things that he has said this year. Many voted for him because they feel frustrated with the economy, they feel socially left behind, and they are exercising the only power they have. We need to challenge everyone to differentiate between their fears and the bigotry created by those fears.

At Nora we want you to disagree, to argue about ideas, to challenge orthodoxy, but in order to create a more perfect union, or even a more perfect school community, we must do so with grace, caring, openness, and, yes, love.

Be the change you want to see in the world. You can not take progress for granted. Today is but a snapshot in time. Your lives are long and your power great if you choose to exercise it toward the values in which you believe.     

A student asked this morning if there’s a meditation for a day like this, and indeed there is one that we’ve noted before, the RAIN meditation. This is a useful framework when dealing with any difficult emotion or time.

R stands for Recognize.
    Knowing that you’re distressed, recognizing how it’s affecting your body, your emotions, your energy, your mood. Feeling where those sensations are lodged, noticing how your mind has been hijacked.

A stands for Allow.
    Allowing means that you’re letting the difficult emotions sit with you, in awareness, like a stranger on a park bench. Being able to sit with the discomfort, allow it to just be, lessens it’s hold on you, as you can see it a bit more dispassionately. Wishing away the difficult emotion doesn’t deal with reality... you’re feeling the emotion. Allowing the fear, anxiety, sadness or other difficulty to just be, without pushing it away or being overtaken by it will better allow you to move forward.

I stands for Inquire.
    Why has this event had such an impact on you? What triggers did it set off? How does the event conflict with your beliefs about yourself, about the world? What are you wishing for? Can you work toward getting it? What are you running from? Can you escape?

N stands for Non-identification
    The difficult emotion is not you, not who you are. It doesn’t define you, even though it’s with you now.  Like clouds in the sky, it will eventually move on, as all thoughts do. By seeing it as the ephemeral thing that it is, you’re better able to proceed with your life.

Please note that Allowing does not denote passivity. While you must Allow the reality of a difficult situation, you can take steps toward changing it once you’ve come to terms with it and not allowed it to consume your identity.


And finally, a reminder of the culture that your predecessors at Nora defined back in the early 1990's, perhaps more relevant today than ever:

We expect people to be open minded,
            ...sensitive to other people's feelings,
We expect people to stand up for others. treat others the way they want to be treated, work to create the environment they want. think about the consequences of what they say, respect each person, challenge cruelty, help each other follow these standards, take responsibility for themselves, end gossip, acknowledge other's ideas and viewpoints, treat everyone with dignity and basic human respect, respect and value people's differences, listen, admit mistakes, participate in community life.