Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 3 seconds

Patience, graciousness and emotional shortcircuits

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 3 seconds

Yesterday I lost my patience 

Today I saw this tweet by Jesse Stommel on how patience is pedagogical (check out the whole thread on empathy for students as well). 

So what happened yday is that after a full day of stress, and while fasting (which is a religious ritual of not eating/drinking for a long time which is supposed to make you spiritual and often does but also occasionally makes you cranky because, you know, hypoglycemia!) I saw something that triggered me and I lost it. I’d consider myself a person who is patient but in a hurry. I don’t know how to explain this exactly, but I like doing things fast but try to be patient with others (not always successfully); I usually handle stress well, until something triggers me and then I blow up. Yesterday was that day.

I had my daughter and her two cousins with me in the playground and my husband nearby. They and a couple of other kids were following some cats and found a kitten among them. One of the other kids, a little boy, was going after the kitten and scaring her so I asked him to move away. He did. But a few minutes later he came back with an older kid and a stick in his hand, and they sought the little kitten (which was hiding in a grass space kids aren’t supposed to walk on in the first place) and going after it with the stick. I FLIPPED. I screamed at the kid to move away from the kitten and how could he beat her. If she were older she would have scratched or bitten him, but this one was a baby. Eventually his mom came and calmly took him away. I apologized to her later, because of course I just scared the bejeesus out of her kid and the only thing he learned, probably, was to be scared of the crazy woman (me). When I flip, it’s not pretty.

Honestly, I don’t know if I would have found a more patient, pedagogical way to respond if I’d been having a better day. Honestly, in hindsight I know I didn’t do the right thing. But honestly, I don’t think it’s always feasible to do the right thing when there is cruelty or injustice taking place right in front of your face. Sometimes you gotta scream to stop something from happening even if that scream won’t give long-term results. But i am sure there are better people who could handle that without screams. 

This reminds me of something that happened at Digped and throughout my US trip. I could understand why someone was upset about something but not always take it as deeply as them, and I would try to imagine why a person would behave a certain way that hurt others, calmly, patiently, and someone once called it “gracious”. But we can afford to be gracious when we aren’t the target, or when the target is somewhat distant from us. We can’t always afford to be gracious when we are emotionally triggered. And we need to empathize with other people’s emotional triggers in order to understand why they act the way they do.

Listening is important – but we need to realize that the person expressing themselves (in anger, in hurt) may not be able to express themselves clearly to us, nor is that necessarily a priority for them in the moment. When we see red, or black, we’re not really our rational, reasonable selves.

What the heck did I teach that kid yesterday? More importantly, what did my own kid (who needs not to be scared of me, who needs not to take screaming as a role model) learn?

I’ll forgive myself this. Because I know how those emotions felt. But I still feel guilty and obviously can’t stop thinking about this up until today. What could I have done differently? More: did I have control to do something different? And then: what could I do to better prepare myself to do something different? 

Get me some yoga. I had the most stressful pregnancy including hospitalizations (multiple) and deaths of loved ones and a country going through a revolution. Honestly, I was very calm through it all – partly because of yoga. Maybe pregnancy hormones and some spirituality mixed in.

Ok now back to this. 

I also responded to one of Jesse’s tweets with this note about empathy:

When we empathize, we won’t necessarily get the same emotional triggers as other people, but we start to carry parts of that burden and it’s painful. It’s what happened to me at DigPed and it was driving me crazy. First I didn’t understand, then I started to empathize (which sometimes involved understanding and other times involved absorbing the feelings regardless) and the emotional burden piles up. It doesn’t slide off me. This happens to me at work, too. When I listen empathetically, when this works, it’s a heavy weight I carry. It’s worth it, but it builds up and I can’t just let it go.

Reflecting on how I reacted to the kitten, I think that my emotional shortcircuit saw the injustice towards the kitten as greater than the needs of the kid. In Egypt this is unacceptable. Respect for animals isn’t huge. And to be fair, this kid wasn’t like 8 or 7, he was like maybe 3 or 4. I probably scarred him. I needed pedagogical patience.

It reminds me of how I respond to gender (and some racial) slurs in class. The first time I usually am not prepared for it. With time, I learned pedagogical patience.

So pedagogical patience is contextual and takes hard work and is emotional work.

But I’ll forgive myself because it was a good cause. And I’ll keep berating myself because I wasn’t a good teacher or parent in that moment, just an animal carer, and I didn’t do the best thing. Time to work on that emotional shortcircuit. 

13 thoughts on “Patience, graciousness and emotional shortcircuits

    1. Thanks Ayah! I can’t believe u read my blog! I don’t think “kids barely remember” is a good excuse, because you never know which incident they will remember and how it will affect them. If this kid is too young to be traumatized by this, he was probably too young for me to yell at him…but… I’m human 🙁 and that’s not always an excuse

      1. I’m of the mindset that while kids may remember when we blow up they also remember when we apologize and explain. I’ve blown up at/around my kids more than I’m proud of, but I do make an effort afterwards to apologize to them for losing my temper and to explain why I did. None of us are perfect, and I comfort myself with thinking that by modeling my imperfections I’m teaching my kids that they don’t need to be perfect. 🙂 But I do think that owning our mistakes in front of our kids is also really important modeling.

        1. That’s a great point Martha, thank you. You’re right. We’re imperfect, we make mistakes. What’s important is how we respond when we know we have. And hopefully kids learn from it, too.

  1. Very important aspects to consider here. Personally, I have always been uncomfortable with the “publicly shame teachers for publicly shaming students” reactions out there that many have. They seem to lump the teachers that do it into one “bad” pile and then dehumanize them without considering the human imperfections these teachers deal with, that we all deal with. Of course, we all do that lumping as well, and I am as guilty of lumping people into groups to criticize them as much as anyone else. I guess what I see missing the most is the public acknowledgement of the struggle like you have done here, Maha. Thank you for stepping out to highlight the grey areas in something that so many people try to paint with black and white strokes.

    1. Thank u Matt for framing it like this. I do think contextualizing any of these statements is important. Even shaming ppl who shame ppl who shame ppl (lol) needs to be contextualized. And yes. We (all hehe) generalize 😉 but it’s always useful to remember and remind each other not to… Thanks again

  2. Maha, this makes me think of how I view Eastern and Western medicine. If I have appendicitis, or a heart attack I want Western medicine to come to my rescue – fast and perhaps painful but well worth the pain. If I have ongoing digestive issues or skin problems I would rather use an Eastern approach – gentler, slower, and less painful. I agree patience and pedagogy are inseparable but it sounds to me as if what you did yesterday called for a fast response . . . and with it a bit of pain.

    1. Hey Maureen! Looong time no talk! Thanks for this thoughtful analogy…
      I think the place where the analogy breaks down is that Western medicine is rational(ish) and based on evidence, etc whereas Eastern medicine has a less “traditional” (read accepted by Western science) approach which may have emotive elements. When my example i think shows an emotive response that isn’t rational. I mean, i know you’re focusing on a different aspect of it 🙂 analogies do that… Make us think of other dimensions..

  3. I love this notion of pedagogical patience – going to share this post in a session with some of our new teaching assistants. Got me thinking that maybe I am a bit too “gracious” at times, I think we all need a bit of an emotional blow out sometimes but as Martha said its recognising , explaining, apologising, reflecting and modelling it that is important.

    1. Thank uuuu Sheila – also, I’m amazed that ur considering sharing the post! It always surprises me how sometimes the most personal of posts resonate deeply w people in both personal and professional contexts

  4. This was a good read. I’ve been using a lot of time and thinking to minimize the focus on course content, objective, and dos and don’ts for students to be successful … as a new semester starts this week. This post made me think that maybe I could use patience as a means, even catalyst to let students make the course their own. Maybe I will even say that I am trying to be patient when listening, waiting for students to take the next turn, when students need time to catch up. Thanks for a thought-provoking post, Maha.

  5. This beautiful post really got me thinking, Maha, about self-care and self-forgiveness.

    What are the circumstances under which we can more readily say “I’ll forgive myself this”, and what are the circumstances where we get more stuck? I’m following a line of thought that academic practice undermines our ability to judge our actions on our own terms — to recognise where we didn’t get it right, but not to be undone by guilt.

    Is it that we are somehow trained to fear not looking good, not pulling it off? Here I’m thinking about the well-known thing of focusing entirely on the negative evaluation in the pile of generally positive feedback, or the way that Reviewer No 2 who hates the article comes to count much more than Reviewer No 1 who liked it. These aren’t accidents, and I’m not fully convinced by imposter syndrome, as I think it pathologises the individual and excuses the system. What if the issue is that we’re so trained to seek approval, that this then makes it hard to forgive ourselves when we stumble, even if still heading in the right direction?

    By the way, I would have reacted as you did. And I’ve certainly said things to and in front of my daughters that don’t fit the model of serene parenting we all keep in our hearts! I would say that your daughter would have seen a familiar sight: you standing up for justice.

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