Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Right vs. Right in Action

My awareness and sensitivity to right vs. right decisions has been heightened as a result of the many thoughtful readings and conversations I have had over the past few months while serving on the Ethics Team at Greensboro Day School. I felt this growing awareness quite deeply while attending the NAIS People of Color conference in Houston last week. The ethical dilemmas I encountered triggered a reaction in my heart, and I would like to share some of those dilemmas with you.

Sitting in a white affinity group for the first time (which is a blog unto itself), I discerned my first right vs. right decision. Across the cluttered circle of chairs, amidst brief introductions of who we were and where we worked, I was asked if I would describe Greensboro Day School to be progressive. On the one hand, it was right to be loyal to my home community, my positive view of the progress we have made, and reflect on the original intention of diversity when our school opened its doors over 40 years ago, as well as the diversity present in our faculty and families. Should I tout that GDS is one of the first schools in the state to have administered AIM (Assessment of Inclusivity and Multiculturalism) and that its results are a guide to our continued progress? Did I mention Tommy Webb, the Assistant Head of School, was amidst the discussion? “Yes, we are very progressive!” would be a right answer.

Another right answer lay in the awareness tugging at me that we have much work ahead of us. I had just sat through an incredible session hearing about the important work of affinity groups in schools for students who identify themselves as Black, Latino/Latina, Asian or GLBTQ (gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, questioning). The concluding video shared students expressing their reflections, including the vital role affinity groups are in their life and the impact to their community, made me well up with tightness in my throat. I also heard about schools with close to 30% minority faculty, including several in leadership positions, and similar statistics reflected in their student population. It would also be right, therefore, to say, “no,” we are fairly conservative and have much work to do to be considered truly progressive in this area. And so I did.

Although courage was helpful in answering the question above, it felt weightier as I navigated another right vs. right decision hours later. This was simpler, but felt so much more complicated. I had just left a session where I had been carefully sharing my first experience with race and admitting to strangers some of the spoken and unspoken messages I absorbed about race as a child from my family, especially my grandmother. Reconnecting with US teacher Estelle Bowden, who is black, we walked back to the hotel and shared our respective enlightenments of the day. The streets were loud with traffic and the air of the city smelled of oily exhaust mixed with the many delicious aromas from the restaurants we passed. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a stray cat ran across the sidewalk and startled us. It was a Calico, mostly white. Without thinking I chuckled, “Well that was interesting. I wonder what that means. At least it wasn’t black!” Estelle smiled and shared my brief laugh as we continued on the sidewalk. Or did she? What was she thinking inside? I recall from a class in graduate school that even our use of language is racist in its expression of the word black being associated with things that are bad. I was sick with a pang of guilt and embarrassment for saying something so ignorant. Here lies the right vs. right decision. Estelle didn’t seem to notice and I certainly didn’t mean anything by it. The superstition, “If a black cat crosses your path it is bad luck,” is commonly known. It was right to say nothing. Asking her about it may actually make her believe that I think she is oversensitive and analyzes everything white people say. Yes, right to say nothing.

But what lingered for me, in my private 60 seconds of anxiety, was that I am here at a conference on diversity, and I am aware I may have offended and I am CHOOSING to say nothing! How could I? Although I considered responding to the pit in my stomach, it was much easier to let the conversation rattle on to new topics and pretend that awkward moment, (just for me or both of us?), never happened. But the easier path is rarely the right path. Rushworth Kidder, in his book, Moral Courage, describes the powerful strength required to operationalize moral understanding into action. We have all said something and then realized a heartbeat later that it might have come out wrong, and knew the courage it would take to admit it. For me, the right choice to ask Estelle about the black cat comment outweighed the right choice to stay silent. So, twisting up my courage and prepared to be criticized, I did ask about my comment about the cat. For those of you who are curious, and to my great relief, Estelle wasn’t offended at all. She hadn’t even thought twice about it.

Day-to-day life provides many opportunities to notice and champion a variety of right vs. right decisions. Sometimes, they are seemingly small, and sometimes the dilemmas are sensitive and emotionally charged. The right vs. right dilemmas around differences in culture, race, socio-economics and sexual orientation are plentiful. Our Ethics Team will be participating in a two day workshop in January that will help us to discover and address the challenges in the many ethical dilemmas we face every day, large or small.

I encourage you to post your comments below; let’s keep the conversation going!

Michelle Bostion, LS Counselor

Friday, December 14, 2012

Talking with Your Children About Difficult Things

In light of the significant news coverage regarding the school shooting in Connecticut, it is possible you may be fielding questions from your children and hosting conversations you are a little unsure how to handle. Keep in mind that children will tell you with their questions how much and what they need to know. It is perfectly acceptable to say, “I don’t know,” in response to a question a child may ask you.

The following Web site might be of help to you as you begin to think about talking with your child: http://www.talkwithkids.org/first.html

Here are some additional tips:
  • Before answering, it is a good idea to ask your child what she already knows about the topic in question.
  • Be honest with your answers, but choose your words and explanations according to the child's understanding, and don't overload the child with too much information.
  • Try to give answers that give hope and faith and are reassuring, but again, don't lie or give false hope or unrealistic promises.
  • Be ready to answer the same question repeatedly. As has been found in several studies, even if parents do talk to children about difficult topics, children might later not remember it. So you need to have these discussions often. For a child, repeating a question might also be a form of getting reassurance.
  • You don’t have to have all the answers. It’s okay to say, ‘I don’t know,’ but I will let you know as soon as I understand it better. The most important thing is that your children can feel you care about them.
Keep the lines of communication open. Do a lot of listening and reassuring. And look for ways to help your children cope. John King, Bridget Gwinnett and I are available if you observe any unusual behavior that may indicate your child may need additional support.

Michelle Bostian, Lower School Counselor

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Sights of the Season

This time of year you see them everywhere….glowing in windows, hanging in bright spheres from trees, blinking in yards, flickering on tables, outlining homes…..LIGHTS! Lights play a central role in many of the holidays celebrated this time of year.
  • During Hanukkah, a candle is lit each night for eight evenings. The candles bring to memory the miracle of oil lasting eight days instead of one after the destruction of the Temple.
  • At Christmas, Christians use lights to symbolize Jesus bringing light and hope to a lost world. Stars represent the bright star that led wise men to Bethlehem after Jesus’ birth.
  • Hindus, Jains and Sikhs celebrate Diwali, also known as the “festival of lights” between mid-October and mid-November. Diwali involves the lighting of small clay lamps to signify the triumph of good over evil.
  • Kwanzaa celebrates the African heritage and culture. Kwanzaa candles are one of the most important symbols of the celebration. For seven nights a candle is lit to observe the importance of unity, self-determination, responsibility, purpose, creativity and faith.

In the dark, all lights look the same. It is impossible to discern the reason for their illumination but it is a great time for personal reflection. What decisions or actions can I make to assure that good triumphs over evil? What can I do to bring hope to someone? How can my actions and choices help bring unity to my world? 

Now the next step… 

What opportunities can I provide for my children to learn the importance of responsibility and determination? How can creativity be honored and nurtured? How can I pass on traditions that are important memories to my family and faith? 
Strive to be a light in someone’s dark world. Be a flicker of love, understanding and encouragement.
Beth Hopkins, 1st grade teacher