On Gratitude and Compassion.

This is the week where we are reminded to reflect on what we are thankful for.  This year my biggest gratitude and thanks go to Baby Grouch.

She makes me happy simply because she is she.  I am grateful for her smiles, her snores, her little grasp on my finger, her cuddles and coos.  I’m grateful for her cries and her tears and for the exhaustion that comes from her waking me up at all hours of the night.  I’m grateful for every tiny bit of her being.

She is a really good baby, very content and calm most of the time.  There was one night when she screamed bloody murder – and nothing could be done to console her.  She continued to shriek and shriek for what felt like an eternity, but in reality was about 40 minutes.  Unlike the annoyance that I imagined I might someday feel when my child didn’t stop screaming, I surprised myself by feeling compassion.  I knew she wouldn’t be crying without a reason and I just wanted her to be happy again.  I wasn’t angry, and I just calmly did what I could to try to help.

Within my years teaching high school students, I’ve worked with upwards of a thousand high school students.  For all of those years, at least some of my students have been considered “at risk” and there is a substantial number of them have been said to have behavior problems in other people’s rooms.  From what I’ve heard, some of them have really been little fuckers, I must admit.  In my classroom, however, there are very few students I would have classified in that way.  That’s not to say they didn’t sometimes do things they weren’t supposed to, but by punishing the action and not the child – by approaching each outburst with compassion and empathy – I haven’t had to deal with too much – and I’d say that all of my students have been, and are, really great people.

Well, all except two.  Two of them I thought were pretty evil and beyond help.  During my second year of teaching there was Steve, and my 5th year of teaching there was Michael.  It’s okay to be honest here, right?

Okay, okay, in all reality, those two probably just needed help beyond what I was capable of giving. But, see how easy it was for me to put the blame on them? To say that there must be something wrong with THEM, when really it was ME who couldn’t help?

Unlike babies, teenagers (and adults) don’t always cry at the exact moment when something is wrong.  More often than not, this unhappiness manifests in some other form, and is often redirected at sources other than the real problem.  When someone lashes out angrily, or cruelly or even violently, we can condemn the behavior, but we need to look at that person with compassion and do what we can to help.  Maybe they have sensory issues, maybe they have a cognitive impairment, have poor coping skills, are dealing with depression or mental illness, have anger issues due to neglect or abuse, or were just never taught how to use good judgement.  We need to remember that good people can do stupid things.  Even horrible things.

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions or that poor choices shouldn’t have consequences.  Not at all.  But, we sometimes need a reminder that it is incredibly easy for those of us who are so lucky to have support, love, guidance, strong role models, financial means and good health, to judge the actions of others who do not have the benefit of these gifts.  But just because it is easy doesn’t make it okay.

It’s so easy to sit back in our cushy lives, look down our noses and arrogantly scoff, “What is wrong with these people?”  Well, guess what,  there is probably a LOT wrong. And the reason we don’t act that way is because we are LUCKY, not just because we are so much better than everyone else.  Instead of judging, we need to all have a little more compassion.

This is why despite the incessant bashing of teachers – calling us lazy, calling us greedy,  politicians taking away health care, and pensions and our funding, and increasing class size – despite all of this, I still love my job, because, like so many of my colleagues, I choose my “core curriculum” to include empathy and compassion.

I’m so grateful for Baby Grouch, and the happiness she has given me, and for her reminding me what I already know, but what is so easy to forget.

Oh, and I’m also thankful for wine.  Very, very thankful for wine.

This post is a part of Yeah Write #84.  If you like what you read, vote for me on Thursday :)

23 thoughts on “On Gratitude and Compassion.

  1. Words that were written from deep inside the heart, this piece has me sniffling and snorting just like Baby Grouch. They evoke emotions deep within and force introspection, critical to growth.

  2. I am amazed that you can say you are thankful for the sleepless nights. I would erase this part of parenting in a heartbeat. It stopped me from having a second. It made me crazy and irrational. It made me lose my shit.

    Good for you for seeing it all as precious.

  3. My youngest kids (twins) are toddlers. And they still get up every night. And some nights, I’m actually glad for the snuggle time because I know they’re aren’t going to fit in my lap forever. I am thankful that they are in my life to keep me awake, too.

  4. As a high school teacher and mother myself, I loved this post!

    I remember one challenging summer school class with elementary kids (I’ve taught both ages) I bought a “scream pillow” where my special needs class could step outside and use it, to scream out ther aggression into the pillow or hit the pillow. That way, if u didn’t have time that second to mediate and help them, they could at least let it out in a safe way. They giggled at it at first but that pillow got a lot of use.

  5. I try to keep this concept in mind. I’ve navigated and probably will continue to navigate through the mental health world and if you don’t find your compassion then and try not to judge you will go crazy yourself. Thank you for the thoughtful post.

  6. I’m also a teacher and probably, yes, that’s in part bc of my desire to Help. I think about my students over the years – the ones I helped directly and while they were in class, the ones who “got away,” so to speak. I feel sad, sometimes, about the lives I know are at risk – and then again, I also remember my own teachers from H.S. and wonder if they knew, at the time, how much they’d helped me somewhere down the line. Teaching is a funny art because sometimes our “product” doesn’t appear until years after our subjects have left our immediate vicinity.

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