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).
Patience is pedagogical. The most important work of teaching is empathy and understanding.
— Jesse Stommel (@Jessifer) August 29, 2017
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:
Empathy isn't just hard work, it's occasionally painful work. It can make our work harder, but more worthwhile
— ℳąhą Bąℓi, PhD مها بالي 🌵 (@Bali_Maha) August 30, 2017
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.