One of the difficult tasks I face as an introverted educator has been learning how to navigate cynical, sarcastic, and discourteous verbose people who live in our world. Sometimes these are outrageous, angry, and disheartened fellow sojourners who merely need to share with someone who is nearby to listen, but this requires the utmost patience from a certain English teacher who is merely watching a soccer game and wanted to enjoy the beauty of an 80 degree afternoon watching her favorite sport.
I am thinking of a conversation I had this week with someone who presented themselves as part of the same program I wholeheartedly support, but in reality, they hold major frustrations and unabashed opinions about everything in our world. So the conversation went from specific to broad, and in five minutes, I could see there was no immediate relief from their enormous complaints.
Sometimes in that moment, I gently tell my fellow American that I am an immigrant’s daughter, and my grandparents sacrificed everything to move to the USA so we could have freedoms and opportunities not possible where they lived. And how as free Americans, we have the privilege and responsibility to be responsible and gracious citizens. With this conversation, I knew nothing would sway their firmly held judgments.
What should I have said in that conversation? As an educator, I represent my school wherever I may go. When I’m wearing my Eagle mascot t-shirt at a sporting event and sitting with my dear friend in the bleachers, I hope to have a wonderful conversation with her, and that’s our experience 99% of the time.
But other times, high school parents meet a teacher at an event and suddenly: it’s a platform for change, an open forum for a lament for perceived injustices, or an impromptu parent-teacher conference.
I am familiar with this role and routine as a pastor’s wife. For 22 years of marriage where my husband has worked as a pastor, hospice chaplain, or counselor, I have learned to navigate these conversations, and I always look for ways to be kind, to listen with a caring lens, and to seek for ways to unite people.
And in truth: I hold my heart closely and protect myself, sharing little about my personal life or my world. There’s an element of “fight or flight or freeze” and I listen, ponder, consider my response, and hope that I represent my school and God well.
I want to be a peacemaker, and also to be someone others are comfortable sharing with, someone who will advocate for their legitimate needs, and consistently faithful to the role I have as a teacher.
But today I’m ruminating about that conversation: what could I have said? Did that parent really have a solution to things or were they just spouting emotion without realizing their audience?
There’s a real danger here, because I always strive to be genuine and authentic, and kind.
If anything, I know I listened to this parent, heard their thoughts, ideas, and fears, and later recognized their concerns were borne out of some pain or challenge which had nothing to do with the sport their daughter was playing. So in that moment, I held more grace for them.
I guess sometimes that’s all we need, really: to listen to someone and know they feel heard, even if there are no immediate solutions, and to realize I often look for that grace, too.