“Was you a good boy or a bad boy?”
It was clear that this young man in the making was attempting a “measure up.” Kids begin their comparison journeys very early and often begin assuming identities that may not be their own or truly unique to the individuals they are.
And I don’t know how to tell a nine year old boy that even great can be evil. I don’t know how to tell him a street sign that reads one way can still be a dead end. That two things can exist without a superhero coming to rid the lesser of the evils. How do you say the rooms with the brightest lights usually end up hiding the most dirt? That a dirty sponge can still wash a plate clean. People all around the world are made smaller by their biggest mistakes. I’ve been made smaller by my biggest mistakes.
In my own body, grief the size of an oak tree has been knocked over by peace the size of a pebble, and yet the mightiest dreams, efforts, goals have succumbed to the tiniest fear, doubt, negative criticism. Yin and yang is just another phrase that gives language to the feeling of feeling half whole. I’ve had tendencies that have served everyone but me, and I’ve had tendons made weak by trying to lift freedoms I didn’t know were already weightless. I can’t downright say angels and devils don’t walk the same earth and often sleep in the same beds or the same bodies. How do I say that when science textbooks refer to the circle of life, they don’t tell you about the high definition squares mounted on walls that’ll paint you a burden to society or how every triangle is a half of a square but not every half of a square is a triangle. Or how often you’ll have to square off with you are and who you want to be and who they’ve made you out to be. Or that trying, alone, will never be your best angle because not everyone looks for effort in pictures and your best moments might even end up coming during your very worst times. That math doesn’t lie but it doesn’t tell the truth either – at least the whole truth. Neither does the law. Because good boys – no, great boys will jump a turnstile one day and get pigeon holed a delinquent and just okay boys will do it often but be too deep in the “right neighborhood” to be evading a fare to ride public transportation even though they are evading what’s fair. That there will be referees tasked with neutrality but only see things in the color of their stripes – black and white, either or, hot or cold, out or safe, foul or no foul. One headphone will inevitably go out before the other at least once in your life, and you have to do everything you can to keep listening to your song while the other ear gets filled with a story you don’t have to wear. That’s the hard part – there is no bad and there is no good – at least not all the time. There is no one size fits all but not all things are fit for a size. Not all things stretch and grow or shrink and perish. Some things just are. Like water – which freezes or burns depending on the environment is it surrounded by. How do you communicate that? How do you narrate a oneness when there are brackets everywhere. When there are champions and everything else – saviors and villains, saints and sinners. How do you point out that no matter what happens, the birds still sing in the summer mornings and that consistent might be the very best thing you can ever “be” in life. That the world will try to get you to pick your scabs, and when you do, you’ll bleed and forget that you were healing. How do you say that results don’t always matter if they permanently hurt the people receiving them. How do you say you can hurt a winner by seeing them a winner always, and you can hurt a loser by seeing them a loser always.
It’s in these moments that values and identity are shaped. It’s never too early to try and start teaching about values, identity, and influences and how they may impact our ability and likelihood to make decisions and to advocate for ourselves and others. The hardest part of being an educator might be the fact that we are tasked with navigating nuance and context. We are tasked with giving students the room and the space to work through and peel back layers of the world that aren’t necessarily their own but may have been imposed upon them. We are tasked with observing without judgement and caring without controlling. And although this is the hardest part, it is simultaneously the most joyous, too.
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