I won’t lie, friends: it’s been a tough week to be grading final exams.
Don’t get me wrong: I dearly love seeing the wins during these interpersonal and small group communication and leadership take-home finals.
There’s usually nothing as cool as hearing about the ways the concepts my students are learning about conflict styles and stress and shame and civility are already impacting lives.
There’s usually nothing so fabulous as hearing the super-smart and shy students talk about how much more comfortable speaking up they are now.
Or hearing the students that have always felt themselves getting aggressive talking about how huge it is for them that they learned to tone it down to have healthy disagreements.
Or — and this one’s particularly close to my heart — reading about students reassessing the toxic patterns they’ve had in the past, and determining to do what they can to assertively protect themselves from continuing those patterns.
I so love all of that! I really really do.
It reminds me why I go through the emotional labor of this work. Why I take the risks to assertively speak up about assertiveness in and out of the classroom. Why I help people gain the tools it takes to make better decisions about how to talk to themselves and each other. When to stay silent and when to speak up.
But…sigh. It’s been a tough news week, friends, and that’s been terribly frustrating and distracting. As a progressive Christian who grew up as a PK (that’s pastor’s kid to you luck-, er, I mean, uninitiated), my response to news stories about violence against humans in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and verbal dehumanization of anyone as animals by people in the highest US offices is pure, pure frustration.
It all makes me — at least my inner control freak side — feel like I should be everywhere at once and saying every word I possibly can to make a difference in these conversations in the broader world. It’s taken all of my constraint to avoid posting here frequently and in depth. It’s a strong enough urge that it tempts me to think that my classroom efforts aren’t actually enough. That somehow I should be doing more.
See, I have a PhD in communication with emphases on media, narrative, and society and rhetoric. I’ve been watching recent political events in the US like an engineer watching a train wreck she is unable to prevent. I’ve known what was happening, but that train, she’s kept on coming all the same.
Until a couple of weeks ago when I finally started this venture, I knew my best impact was teaching civility to 160 students a year, and as encouraging others and speaking up as I could on my personal social media. That made sense for a wide host of personal reasons I won’t get into, at least not right now.
But now–with this venture finally getting started–I won’t lie. It’s been hard not to feel like maybe I should have spoken up earlier. That little critical voice inside me has been telling me maybe I didn’t do as much as I could have in the early days.
I know that’s a lie. I know we all have our own journeys and choices to make about assertiveness, including for those of us who teach the stuff to get involved in the broader conversations about these things.
And I had very good reasons to make the decisions I have to restrict my sphere of influence to the classroom and my personal social media up to this point. And that’s true for all of us. We all have the right to make choices for our own healing and space to grow into the assertiveness and resilience skills we need if we’re to have any impact on the world, whether in small ways or big.
Joining those conversations takes time, energy, and involves risks. Assertiveness is not easy. And we all need to stick together if we’re to make the journey. It doesn’t help when we judge each other for taking water breaks from this marathon we’re living through.
That said, I’m glad I started this venture when I did. Yes, it made finals week more distracted than before. But it also reminds me that these same skills I’ve been learning, practicing, and sharing with my students for years are skills that are desperately needed in these unpredictable times we live in. I hope very much that you’ll join me in this quest to do the small bits we can to assertively speak truth to toxic enactments of power. To work toward conquering the darkness.
And we all need to speak up in whatever ways we can as we’re able, where we are, if it’s to happen.
Sometimes we’ll find the darkness on the world stage. Sometimes we’ll find it in the inner critic that tells us that what we’ve been able to do has had no meaning. Sometimes we’ll find it in the toxic relationship we have. Sometimes we’ll find it in the comments section.
No matter where we find it, let’s do what we can to bring the light of truth into the darkness. I’m here in this space now, especially as soon as these finals are done, to bring some of the skills I’ve been learning, teaching, and practicing into this space, in hopes that the conversation may help you and encourage all of us to keep on keeping on in this journey of speaking up.
It’s just hard, though, isn’t it? To know that there are human limitations to what we can and should do? Everyone please join me in a collective sigh. This stuff is hard, friends. There’s a lot of dark, and without each other we’ll easily get discouraged. Let’s stick together to make it easier and make a bigger impact, eh? Please?
Oh, and if you’ve been finding a lot of darkness in the comments sections lately, as I have, and needing some advice, sign up for our email list to receive a free PDF of the upcoming “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls.” I’ll start zipping out weekly newsletters about all things Assertive Spirituality starting next week, as soon as I finish these stu-, er, wonderful–that’s it, wonderful–final exams.
Seriously, thanks for reading. <Deep breath.> Back to those finals. I just have to trust that the rest of you will keep speaking up in the broader conversation until I can rejoin the relay when these are done and summer is here. Go team assertiveness!
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